Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Black Swan the movie and Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse

*WARNING: SPOILERS*

"Black Swan" is in my opinion a very good movie.

I don't find Natalie Portman's performance so stunning, even though I appreciate the incredible effort she made to enter the role.

Anyway, let's just ignore her; I think that the director Darren Aronofsky is the only person to praise :)

If you are reading this post, most likely you've seen the movie.
Anyway, to summarise the plot very briefly, it's about Nina, a young, dedicated ballet dancer who loses her mind to play the double role of the White Swan and the Black Swan.

I think everyone realizes from the very beginning of the movie that ballet is just a background, even though Nina's life and personal development seem to follow the same pattern as the plot of Black Swan.

Also, it's quite obvious that one of the main themes (if not the main one) of this movie is the relationship between Nina and her mother Erica.

Nina is probably on her early twenties but behaves like a child. And her mother treats her like a child.
Erica is not simply overprotective, but domineering and oppressive.
Nina is not allowed to have a life, a sexuality, and not even some privacy.
Every moment and aspect of her life is controlled by her mother.

Nina's mother was a ballet dancer herself, but she had to give up her career when she was pregnant with Nina.
She is clearly envious of the daughter who is doing what she couldn't do.
At the same time she wants to use her daughter's life as an extension of her own life.
I think the scene of the cake shows very well how contradictory Erica's behaviour is and how confused she is.
Is she happy that Nina got the lead role in Black Swan?
Why does she get her a huge cake, knowing very well that a ballerina must be on a strict diet?
And then she gets so upset because Nina doesn't want to eat the cake, and basically morally blackmail her until she has some...

Undoubtedly, Erica is abusing her daughter.
It's not completely clear how much this woman is aware of what she is doing to her child.
There are some hints to the fact that she might hate herself, but she is clearly unable to stop.

Nina is undoubtedly and understandably disturbed.
She is very repressed, and this affects her relationship with other people but also the inability to express herself with her body in a role full of passion like the one of the Black Swan.
She is a perfectionist, as often happens to children of very demanding parents.
The fact that she is finally given the lead role after so many years of hard training is what triggers her need to break free from her mother.
Without being able to perform the Black Swan, her role will be taken over by less perfect but also less repressed fellow ballerina Lily.

What we see in the movie is what Nina sees. Reality is more and more mixed with her delusion.
Lily becomes an enemy to defeat, even though the fight between the two is actually the fight between the two different Ninas, the sweet and delicate child and the repressed Black Swan who wants to break free.
In a way, Erica represents the 'good' part of Nina, and Lily the 'bad' one.
Nina eventually fights only with herself.
No surprise that she kills herself while thinking of killing Lily. No surprise that she looks defiantly at her own mother at the end of her impressive performance as the Black Swan, before breaking free and dying.

***

While looking for reviews to read I happened to find this extremely interesting article by Faithallen:
Black Swan: Movie about Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse (Blooming Lotus).

Not just the article but also all the comments to the article are very interesting and thought provoking.
They made me want to watch the movie again, to see it from a different perspective!

Anyway, I do not agree with everything stated in Faithallen's blog post.
Especially with the statement that the movie *is* about mother-daughter sexual abuse.
Well, I wouldn't go that far.
It's possible, even very likely if you want, since all the details Faithallen and some readers of hers mentioned are very convincing, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary.
Psychological abuse would be enough to explain Nina's fragility and repression.

I must say that, luckily for me, I have never had the dreadful experience of being sexually abused by a parent, so I didn't even think about it when I watched the movie.
Still, I didn't have any problem in understanding Nina's feelings and sympathising with her.
I even found the tragic ending the only possible one, and I felt relieved when Nina finally died.

In general, I believe that when you comment on a movie, book, artwork you cannot claim that you understand the only truth about it.
"Black Swan" shows quite well that people can see what they want to see in it.
But apart from this, I am very grateful to Faithallen for the post she wrote, and to all the people who commented on it, because it's a very interesting read. I'm only sorry that most of them during her childhood experienced something that I find hard to believe possible.