Black Bear (2020) | Film Analysis

A bear dissection dedicated to PETA protesters.

Aubrey Plaza is sat about a towel on a pier.

A dense brume spreads across the lake.

Wistful, meditative gaze is cast as a grazing stone along placid ripples.

A daily ritual.

Dress in a monokini, take a morning stroll to the pier of your log cabin retreat.

Sit Indian style on a neatly placed towel.

Summon a pensive look.

Channel the pneuma of Samuel Beckett.

Splash.

Drown.

Repeat.

The opening title card depicts a sheet of notebook paper with a cursive, fine-tip imprint of the words ‘Black Bear’, underlined.

Shortly after, Aubrey’s character is seen entering her personal quarters, approaching a desk with a book; notebook.

Every rumination diffused through the mist is transliterated here.

No definitive glimpse is revealed for what is written.

Screenplay?

Novel?

Short story?

Flash fiction?

It seems intentional. The camera pans to her, yet not enough to focus on the bleeding ink.

However, as her gaze now penetrates through the window, we might deduce her brown study to be trained on the title card, from which the words are revealed.

Part One: The Bear in the Road.

Cut to a later scene occurring in what appears to be the near past.

Now, a car window is subject to her anti-male gaze.

New characters are impressed.

Aubrey’s character, later addressed as Allison, is invited to lodge at a married couple’s cabin.

The mise-en-scène has become disoriented.

The wife, Blair, played by Sarah Gadon, expresses body language that hints at ambivalence with their guest’s arrival.

Expected in arrival yet, perhaps, intimidated from the unexpected image of attraction.

Subjective though it may be, a theme that is nuanced throughout the course of progression.

After being settled into her room, lying in bed with eyes affixed to the ceiling, Allison’s pier sequence is replayed.

Again, no words are visible for the meagre word count.

Only the same recurring act of underlining.

The pier’s significance begins to be made evident when the scene cuts to her, positioned twice more in the same, precise arrangement, front obscured from view.

However, something is patently different when focused on the background.

A mist no longer shrouds the lake.

Instead, replaced with clarity.

Moreover, the camera reveals the visage of ataraxia, reflections of serenity conjuring the image of a still lake, accented by a rising sun on the horizon.

Cheek dry of an errant tear, desiccated with attic salt, a smile stretches across the distance.

It is unclear whether or not the shared events with these ancillary characters are a product of Allison’s imagination.

Many viewers may not intuit what is purported to be obvious.

If the intent was thus, it successfully leaves the audience insensible.

The entire sequence, juxtaposed to this recursive glance, may betray to the fact of Gabe and Blair being real only when interpreted within context of Allison’s writing.

By that very fact or act, revealing the protagonist’s identity as a writer immediately evokes a sense of suspicion.

How can we trust what is depicted as true when the character’s profession is characterised by fabrication?

Dinner is served.

Intimate details shared.

Amid the grade school icebreakers, Allison is confirmed as a film director/writer/actress.

Gabe, a proclaimed chef, career musician and male chauvinist.

Hazy details and denigrating humour.

Blair, conversely, is a professional wine-pourer, breeder and Tumblr-sired feminist.

An entrée of persiflage, seasoned with expired ambition, garnished with tensive despondency.

Blair, the aspiring dancer.

Gabe, the aspiressional musician.

Allison.

Innominate auteur.

Engaging with her brainchildren in a hearty, yet less than heartwarming, feast preceding the lights, camera, action and dubious direction.

If Vox Lux, The Neon Demon and Black Swan were personified, there they would be, Picasso’s Three Dancers, engaged in a chilling love triangle at this very table.

Three consenting adults and an endangered fœtus are inebriated in a ghastly echo chamber of interior design.

Deranging knotty pine wraps the base of the cabin as an indelible excrescence that no measure of Bokeh can blur in optical disturbance.

When blurring back into focus, switched and disoriented, Gabe commits infidelity with The Blair Witch Project, contrary to the first projection of inverse operation.

After a quick Google search, regarding the film’s title, you’ll find a convergence of interpretation for a black bear’s symbolism, aligning to self-reflection.

“Introspection and intuition blended with instinct”, according to Shamanism. “Awakening the strong force of the unconscious.”

The first evidence of this self-reflection is evinced by Allison’s regular visits to the pier.

Reality is illustrated by a layer of thick fog obscuring the water’s surface, producing no visible reflection of the subject.

Allison’s gaze is glassy and distant.

After the first sequence of Gabe cheating on Blair with Allison, reality is pronounced by the lake’s clearing.

Allison is out of frame, on a smoke break.

A subtle clue of inconsistency and will-o’-the-wisp (see The Mist).

Approaching the pier in this sequence reveals a deviation from the events of the prelude.

Gabe is now addressed as Allison’s husband.

Unlike Blair’s role, Allison is not pregnant.

Allison is the more neurotic of either depiction, expressing suspicion and eventual hostility towards Blair, whose relation to Gabe is too close for comfort.

The unconscious identity of Allison as a film director and screenwriter is transitioned (see actualised) to Gabe.

Moreover, the real Blair is a creative assistant.

As a Psych Thriller, the diegesis is true to genre as the audience may intuit the isolated, pensive writer as a projection of Allison’s unconscious.

The real Allison is the paranoid, psychologically abused actress of Gabe’s sadistic creation.

As a method for extracting Allison’s potential to give her best performance for the scene, he and Blair consort to the pretense of emotional sadism by provoking jealousy from Allison.

All for the purpose of channeling Allison’s ability to portray the emotion necessary for her role.

Black Bear is a familiar journey through the unconscious mind where Allison’s perspective as the actor is manipulated to expose the grueling reality of the film industry and what lengths must be endured to establish success.

Again, the recurring sound/appearance of a black bear is employed as a device for distinguishing Allison’s tangible confrontation from unconscious retreat where control and stability is seized from a change in creative power.

Of course, an alternative interpretation may be the obvious one.

Allison is, in reality, the triple threat she claims to be at introduction and the events unfolding after the title is written are simply the product of a work in progress script exploring themes of introspection and catharsis.

Hence, the nomination choice of ‘Black Bear’.

A spirit animal that manifests when faced with intense situations that may or may not be reflective of possible bugbears, i.e., infidelity or performance anxiety.

If Gabe, Blair and the crew were real, Allison’s lachrymose ritual may be revealing the aftermath of a failed marriage.

From this viewpoint, there is no ambiguity in chronology nor questioning of verity for reality versus imagination because the events are anachronistic.

The beginning is what occurs in the present and the events of the climax are derived from Allison’s melancholy stare through the opaque wall of retrospection.

Her penetrative gaze allows porous entry to the unresolved sibilation of past that besets and adumbrates from the other side.

At the projected visual of Gabe cheating on Blair, the black bear, symbolic inception of a bugbear, is only heard but not seen.

As the closing sequence approaches and roles are reversed, only then is the bear both heard and seen.

The black bear is a fairly derivative motif for Allison being forced to confront her grim reality.

Ostensibly, her cloistered presentation in the prologue signifies coping with the aftermath of possible separation or divorce.

Perhaps, having never officiated the decision, if ever having discussed at length.

As opposed to the easy option of withdrawing to sanative refuge, grasping closure with the modern stroke of quill and ink.

Placing the title card for Act One as a transition restores continuity for Allison’s revision.

The recurring act of pier meditation, followed by writing, is Allison’s progression of constant editing in the process of achieving a good story.

Accordingly, her fourth wall break at the final frame is further reinforcement for the eponymous significance of a black bear.

An allusive figure for the self-awareness demonstrated by her daily rumination.

Ipso facto, the film is a love letter to cinephiles and media creatives expressing solidarity through the peckish pneuma of “tortured artistry”.

Finally, a third, simplistic view consists of basic character study.

Allison is the archetypal writer who seeks inspiration from a secluded cabin retreat, lodging in a tamed wilderness, alluded by the “blending of instinct”, utilising herself as the solipsistic tool of examination.

An impenetrable, fathomless blanket of mist.

The miasmic, anti-hygienic flatmate of writer’s block.

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