Is "The Black Swan" Just Not Gay Enough?
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February 10, 2011, 06:43 PM
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The NYT`s dance critic Alastair Macaulay echoes some of my concern`s about Darren Aronofsky`s Oscar-nominated ballet movie: As I wrote in Taki`s Magazine:
The Black Swan`s central problem is that the heterosexual Aronofsky, who directed Mickey Rourke so well in The Wrestler two years ago, appears more inspired by professional wrestling than by ballet. Despite Aronofsky`s undoubted cleverness (Harvard Class of `91), he seems to love the idea of ballet far more than he cares for ballet itself. A film stronger on analysis than artfulness, The Black Swan`s dancing, while competently filmed, is seldom electrifying.
Macaulay, who certainly is a better judge of ballet than me, comes to similar conclusions:
Though "Black Swan" certainly feels hostile to ballet, I don`t think it means to be. Its real objective - above and beyond that of so many women`s movies - is to imply that a woman`s truest fulfillment is as (heterosexual) lover, wife and mother, and therefore that Nina`s best artistic successes can never compensate for her personal sacrifices. The "Black Swan" view of ballet is that it`s an unnatural art in which women deny too many normal aspects of womanhood.

There is copious evidence to support that view. Witness such dancer autobiographies as Ms. Kirkland`s and Toni Bentley`s "Winter Season" (1982). Ms. Bentley describes how, when she has her third monthly period in a row, colleagues in her dressing room ask, "Are you sure you`re a dancer?" True dancers, according to that attitude, don`t have normal female functions.

To these negatives ballet brings many positives: energy, responsiveness to music, discipline, teamwork, idealism, interpretative fulfillment. Not so "Black Swan." It`s both irresistible and odious. I was gripped by its melodrama, but its nightmarish view of both ballet and women is not one I`m keen to see again. As a horror movie, it`s not extreme. As a woman`s movie, however, it`s the end of the line.

Most depressingly, Nina is just not a great role. She`s too much a victim - the film makes her helpless, passive - to be seriously involving. Though she enjoys triumph, we never see the willpower that gets her there, just the psychosis and the martyrdom. It`s the latest hit movie for misogynists.