So a couple of weeks ago I was spiralling downwards into a pressure-induced apathetic frenzy and decided that hey – might as well keep going. So I hopped on the crazy train and rented Black Swan as a source of therapeutic inspiration. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint. This movie is a treasure trove of the unfunny neuroses that underpin modern ideas around female sexuality and ambition.
Now to give this a bit of context, I had just spent the day marching with thousands of other women and men at Slutwalk London, the controversial but ultimately quite positive demonstration against rape culture. So feminism and societal perceptions of female sexuality were on the mind, or my version of it anyways (post-post third wave anyone? no?), and this movie TOTALLY pulled together so many of the issues that have become wrapped up in women’s perceptions of themselves in an overcrowded environment with conflicting and competing messages.
It was like Cosmo on crack – be the perfectly innocent clean pure woman, a total vixen (which apparently is the only way to GET WHAT YOU WANT) and an independent, fully established professional at the top of your game. I feel like a lot of the reviews for this movie focused on whether it was an accurate portrayal of the Ballet industry. I would argue that Ballet just provides a convenient and aesthetically appealing backdrop to illustrate and pull apart the psyche of the modern woman. And she is NUTS.
The ideals of perfection and strict code of discipline that apply to the Ballet, simply provide the appropriate structures for a film about the unachievable ideal to which the modern woman aspires. I’m not talking about an inflatable doll version of Hollywood-style perfection that we are told to be pressured into, and should fear the impulse to conform to – sure, still true, but who gives a crap about being one of Hef’s bunnies when you can kick some serious ass?! What we have with Black Swan is the full package – it’s the 1950’s housewife with a high pressured job and a seriously kinky relationship with all the right people. Nina cracking around the edges is somewhat controversial in this sense – but in another, she never seems particularly in control of who she wants to be. Everyone else in her life is setting up expectations for her – and she is eating it up.
It is her corrosion that demonstrates the pressure cooker nature of this over-inflated need to please. All of the old expectations around women’s perfection and decency pile in with further expectations of sexual promiscuity and high achievement; adhering to the specified code of each of these identities (detailed in any woman’s mag for your reading pleasure). This film provides a really great exploration of how combining these things into a cute little Natalie Portman sized package can be just a hop, skip and a jump to crazy town.
And the best part, the most clever part, is that it is all in her head. She is doing it to herself.
Bah! The feminist dialogue of reinventing society shakes its head and laughs, “See! We can’t have it all – we need to refashion the world on our terms to make sure we don’t go cray cray!”. Thanks Black Swan for being both a radical feminist parable and a cautionary tale for checking all those ambitious women who are trying to have it all. Can’t fucking win. Doing it to ourselves. Let’s have a fight.
Competing feminisms, the psycho-analysis of the modern woman, and a kick ass dance movie. Perfection.
- The Real ‘Black Swan’: Meet A-List Ballerina Paloma Herrera (foxnews.com)
- Natalie Avoids Any Black Swan Controversy During a Day Out With Benjamin (popsugar.com)