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“Black Swan” Reminds us How Good it Feels to be Bad

December 8, 2010

Black Swan is a new “psychosexual thriller” directed by Darren Aronofsky, who also directed Requiem for a Dream (one of my favorite dark dramas) starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel.

The trailer is below. Beware, even the trailer is pretty damn scary. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, but remember to scroll down and read the rest of this when you’re done!

How’d you do? You okay? Try watching the movie! It was a TRIP.

I went to watch this movie with my friend J, who also invited me to see  Swan Lake at the San Francisco Ballet a while back. The thing you need to know about Swan Lake is that it involves twin sisters – the Black and White Swans – who are vying for the heart of the Prince.  The White Swan earnestly loves him while the Black Swan is seducing him in order to secure her sister’s demise. Instead of casting two dancers to play good and evil, the same dancer plays both parts as the Swan Queen.

In Black Swan, Nina (Natalie Portman) is cast as the Swan Queen and is perfect for the role of the White Swan but has difficulties portraying the Black Swan in the authentic manner that the director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) demands of her.  All the while, a new dancer – from San Francisco no less – Lily (Mila Kunis) catches the eye of the director because she’s a black swan in her real life as evidenced by her unrestrained lifestyle. Nina is also trying to break free of her mother’s crushing parenting style and we learn that while she’s Nina’s biggest fan she’s also incredibly jealous of Nina’s success since she was never able to attain it. And finally, Nina is trying to avoid becoming the forgotten dancer Beth (Wynona Rider) who has gone ballistic over being replaced because she is too old.

This all proves to be too much  and Black Swan takes us on the roller coaster ride that is Nina’s psychotic break. Her hallucinations and vivid fantasies are hard to disentangle from what is actually happening. And we go through the shock right along with her as we find out that events we think happened in real life were only in our….uhhh…I mean…her head.  As Nina struggles to channel her own Black Swan we see that she is incapable of being both the virginal, good girl she’s played so well in life and the sexy seductress that she, Thomas, and Lily are all trying to pull out of her. Instead, we witness Nina’s Black Swan take over her psychologically, physically, and of course….sexually.

The movie is fantastically done and I would be shocked if Natalie Portman was not nominated for an Oscar (and won). She plays many roles within roles – from a technically perfect dancer who can’t show emotion to a man-eater, audience-seducing black swan in the next to final act. The cinematography is gorgeous and the special effects are amazingly intertwined with real shots to create amazing illusions. And of course, the raunchy sex scenes aren’t bad either.

Black Swan taps into an idea that is often talked about in the social sciences: that the way we like our women on screen/in print/in our fantasies is that sensuous combination of good and evil – the virginal vixen.  Victoria’s Secret has made a killing with this combination for years:

And rapper Ludacris was talking about the same thing when he said he wanted “A lady in the streets/but a freak in the sheets.” It’s also evident in our fantasies of the lustful librarian, the slutty schoolgirl, and of course the temptress teacher.  Is it really any wonder that Rihanna’s third album Good Girl Gone Bad was the one that skyrocketed her to pop culture royalty? When the good girl on the screen is really bad underneath, it drives us crazy…in the “I-want-me-some-of-that” way.

But in real life, it’s actually incredibly difficult to pull this off.  And that is what I was reminded of with Black Swan. Curvy, female professors who wear fitted suits are told to dress “appropriately,” women who have a few steamy photos of them online are told they can’t run for political office, and when we do find out a good woman is sexy in private we call her a whore or a slut because being even a little bit of a vixen, makes you a vixen wearing virgin clothes.  Lily’s character is a black swan in real life but she is unapologetic about it – she is not trying to play the role of the white swan. She sleeps with whomever she wants, eats whatever she wants, and does whatever drugs she wants.  In real life, to try and be both entirely is not possible – the attempt leads to psychotic episodes.

So what does this mean for the women who are indeed a little bit of both the good and the bad?  Naughty and nice? (For all the Christmas celebrating folks!) For now it means that we should be careful which one we put forward when.  But don’t feel bad about the bad. After all, it feels so good!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Patty permalink
    December 18, 2010 9:47 am

    Great movie! I saw it last night…. My only addition would be that I think the drug/alcohol combo was possibly what really pushed her over the edge and there is a diagnosis of “substance-induced psychotic disorder”. I am a nurse and have seen this happen to someone…. Scary stuff!!

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