When I first saw Black Swan, I loved it. I thought it was a wonderful movie, and to an extent that first reaction still stands. But the further away I get from it, the more I doubt this original opinion.
Darren Aronofsky is a talented and accomplished director. The film is well-constructed and visually spectacular, and its tight pacing is a testament to its (male) writers, Mark Heyman, Andreas Heinz and John J. McLaughlin. But, and this is a big BUT: I think it would have been a better film, at the very least a more nuanced film, with a stronger female voice.
Now I am not one to argue that writers and directors cannot accurately portray the opposite sex. I think this is patently untrue. But I think this is where the element of nuance comes in to play. I think there are parts of a woman’s life that the average male screenwriter has not even begun to consider. This became apparent to me the more I thought about Black Swan.
So much of the film, and the discussion surrounding it, focuses on the horrors within Nina. No one seems to mention the external horrors. Nina is pressured to be bone-thin. Nina has an abusive mother. Nina is sexually harassed by her boss. Nina is alienated by her fellow dancers. Yet these elements merit only a passing glance, in favour of an extended rumination on totally hot lesbian sex, man. Never was the marginalization of the horrors of Nina’s everyday experience more evident than in a brief scene where she rides the subway home, alone. Therein, she sits across from an old man who masturbates at her while licking his lips and making hauntingly disgusting, Hannibal Lector-esque sucking noises.
When this scene played out on the downtown Toronto screen I was watching, several male voices openly laughed from the darkness. Laughed. At a scene which clearly showed the everyday horrors experienced not only by Nina, but by many – if not most, at one point or another – of the women in the same audience. I was shocked. The thing is, I don’t think that the people laughing out of malicious intent. I think, instead, it seems so foreign to them that it becomes ridiculous. The fact that this happens all the time to women around the world just does. not. compute. So they think it’s a funny aside, something that would not or could not happen outside the diegetic world of Black Swan.
And yes, this criticism falls far more on the film’s spectators, rather than its authors. But while the laughs themselves rang out, the film moved along, never mentioning nor addressing this experience. And while the film takes seriously the abuse Nina experiences – her mother and Thomas certainly aren’t played for laughs – the fact that it affects her in the way it does is positioned as a character flaw. She is weak, driven to madness because she cannot control herself. The film never undertakes an examination of how frighteningly understandable it is that she should break under the pressure of her life. In fact, the entire character of Lily seems to exist as a physical embodiment of this. Look at Lily: she’s well-adjusted and sane. She eats cheeseburgers! She is sexy! She has control over her life! All in stark contrast to Nina.
Instead of an examination of the external pressures of Nina’s life, we have more reflections of Nina in a mirror. More ruminations of Nina’s tortured mind – naked in a bathtub, of course. The film focuses on the horrors inside her psyche, never allowing the thought that they could be caused by the horrors foisted upon her by her everyday experiences as a woman.
Because, frankly, that wouldn’t look as sexy in a leotard.
Editor’s note: filmschooled generously shared this piece from her blog, you can find this article in its original context here.