The second time through “The Black Swan” I get it. It’s a teeny-bopper fantasy that meets a grandiose narcissist abusive father fantasy ABOUT teeny-boppers. “Growing up means sex, sex is evil and abusive, accepting it will kill you, growing up is the worst thing that can happen.” Well -- next to competing with your mother, who probably wants to be your lover if not YOU.
Wanting to be perfect is a common and destructive teeny-bopper fixation, because they are too young to know that no living thing is perfect. Perfection is paralysis which is death, so one COULD say that the drive to be perfect is what killed our little swan, our “little princess.” Nabokov’s version was much kinder, since Lolita simply becomes imperfect, a part of life.
Grandiose narcissist abusive fathers know nothing, NOTHING, about seduction. I mean, when the choreographer turns to the little swan’s partner and demands, “Would you want to fuck this woman?” does that put her in the mood? (I thought the partner was quite sane. Even the guy in the scary wizard mask who greets the little swan backstage with a cheerful “hey”!) This story is about power-rape, sublimated through a “darker” woman who resorts to rohypnol, the date-rape drug, and makes it all the fault of the little swan that she doesn’t know any better and goes mad. But tonsil-swallowing and crotch-grabbing are not turn-ons for beginners. When the dancer becomes the black swan and kisses the choreographer hard, HE doesn’t respond -- just looks silly.
On the other side is the myth of the mad genius who is entitled to demand anything and dominate every woman he can. (I suppose some people are dragging Balanchine into this.) What if the little swan had met and fallen in love (remember that?) with a gentle, possibly androgenous dance partner? Quite a different story, requiring a different director. And a much different interpretation of sex.
Turning to another approach, I consult Boria Sax’s “The Serpent and the Swan: The Animal Bride in Folklore and Literature.” The animal bride is a repeated figure in almost all mythology, Boria suggests possibly representing the emotional struggle with domestication, which meant separating people from wild animals in one way and bringing them closer to domestic animals in another, into a dependent relationship like a bride. “Animal bride” stories are about women (occasionally men) who are captured, usually by seizing their skins when they’ve temporarily taken them off. Sometimes they are bears and in coastal regions they are often seals, selkies.
Boria suggests that the earliest “animal brides” were snakes, because they take off their skins annually and can be seen doing it. Sometimes they are considered symbols of renewal, even healing. In the oldest stories they are not so much associated with Freudian penises as with Medusa’s hair. But Boria believes that at some point many of the Mediterranean and European myths begin to switch from snakes to big waterbirds. He suggests the theme of “escaping” or running away might be related to migration when even pet birds will leave unless prevented some way. I will suggest that many NA tribes replenished themselves by capturing women (including whites) who might or might not bond with the new group, so that they might long to escape “home.” White women who had been captured since childhood might, if “rescued”, reversely long for their Indian families and homes.
This ambivalence between two worlds, expressed as human and animal, plus the shift from serpent to big bird (giving rise to feathered serpents and birds with long snaky necks) is the seed of “Swan Lake,” the original myth. None of this seems to have been conscious or worth consideration for Aronovsky who, as his alter ego states, wants a stripped-down, shockingly intense version of the tale. It sells tickets. He sees this is about schizophrenia and the extreme discipline of the body. Teeny bopper stuff. They buy tickets.
This is all background and related to what will probably be my most controversial position about this movie: sex is here portrayed as almost the same thing as Evil. Our American culture has bought into this. Violence, even lethal violence against innocent people, is okay.
“Good” (“hot”) sex is always violent. It is portrayed that way. Someone on the radio yesterday joked that a US senator was called on the carpet and thrown out of office because he was a family man who loved and protected his children and had sex only with his wife in a loving private way at home in the marital bed. What an underachiever! How boring! If senators were like this, why would anyone run for office?
What a strange culture that demonizes virtue! But, of course, it demonizes and stigmatizes everything that can’t be commodified. AND wickedness sells better than virtue, esp. if the wickedness means access, power, domination, pleasure. This movie is marketed as a “horror” movie, a psychological thriller, and much is made of the doppelganger, the double. Although, as the guy in the club remarks, “all you ballerinas look alike.” I didn’t recognize Winona Ryder at all. Even Hersey (once “Barbara Seagull,” remember that?) has the same bony face, big eyes, knob hairdo.
If I had the power to change one thing in this movie, I would have the CGI guys (who can do anything) create a shadowy black swan with powerful wings that would rise from the body of the white swan and soar out over the audience, though the walls of the building, and into that giant moon from the stage set.