Black Swan: Is Sexual Liberation the Answer?

Actors: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis

Writer: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J. McLaughlin

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Most people advocate some sort of art project for the repressed to loosen up and get in touch with their inner self and in this stead dance is often a highly recommended activity.  In Black Swan, Natalie Portman’s Nina is a ballet dancer and like all dedicated ballerinas, ballet dancing is all she does. Unfortunately instead of her art loosening Nina up it seems to have turned her into a neurotic individual who has no friends (not that oodles of friends are necessarily a sign of a healthy personality, but she has not a single one) and no interests other than becoming the lead dancer before she becomes too old (what a more interesting film this may have been had more been made of this issue). 

Nina’s dream comes true when she is cast as the Swan Queen in ‘Swan Lake’, a casting which will have her dancing both the part of the good White Swan and the bad Black Swan who seduces the White Swan’s paramour. Nina dances the part of the White Swan perfectly but lecherous choreographer Thomas is unhappy with her depiction of the Black Swan and urges her to loosen up, to ‘live a little’.  How Nina lives a little and can or cannot handle it is the subject of this film.

How does Nina live a little? In the most trite of tropes available– by having sex of course! With boys and girls and oneself. Nina proceeds to shed some repression by going clubbing, popping a pill, making out in a bathroom, having (or dreaming of) a lesbian experience, and even finally finding out what her fingers were made for. 

Much has been made of how Nina’s monster mother (a la the mother in Stephen King’s novel Carrie) is responsible for her daughter’s neurosis. Nina’s mother is a very controlling lady: she still brushes adult Nina’s hair, tucks her into bed, sweetly denigrates her ambition and talent, expects Nina to fulfill her own thwarted dreams, threatens to throw away a cake when Nina does not want a slice, and of course dictates her comings and goings.

But, as monstrous as this mother may be she is all too recognizable a mother for many of us from Pakistan and India and so I was not too shocked by her emotional blackmailing or dictatorial proclamations. And while in India and Pakistan it is marriage that may finally free a daughter from a tyrannical mother, in Black Swan it is Nina being cast as the lead ballerina. 

Once she is the Swan Queen, Nina does begin to blossom in so far that she begins to stand up to her mother (how much more of an interesting film this would have been had more been made of this issue). Of the two elements I did enjoy in this otherwise stale film one was Natalie Portman’s incredible acting as well as that of her rival played by Mila Kunis and second the few truly shriek-out-loud moments caused by gross, painful depictions of the human body be it muscles undulating under skin or skin fusing together.

No doubt there will be more films about dancers and their repressed personalities and this time might even be told from the point of view of a male dancer and might turn out to be the fresh, exciting film that Black Swan is not and could not have been as long as sexual adventure– good or bad– is touted as being the panacea which will save the world or at the very least repressed individuals. 

ps.  when it comes to monstrous screen mothers, the religious nut mother in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel ‘Carrie’ still takes the cake

pps. religion is not the panacea either