Black Swan (2010)
When a ballerina is faced with losing her dream role, her dark side emerges.
Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) is a dark, passionately intense melodrama about Nina (Natalie Portman) and her desperate fight for perfection as the Swan Queen of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The psychological thriller exhibits the harrowing story of when Nina’s passion for her art becomes an intense, all-consuming obsession, leading to the deterioration of her grip on reality. A powerful and iconic film of the 2010s, Black Swan became a solid representation of the feminist thriller-horror genre, focusing on the oppressed and mistreated woman, finally gaining perfection in her man-run world. Yet the competitive female relationships, homoeroticism, and the “female-vigilante-tragedy” trope – all directed and written by men – seem less feminist than the film intended.
Beautiful, movement-based camera shots, a stylistic connection between emotion, colour and lighting, and vivid depictions of hallucinations created a visually pleasing and suffocatingly engaging film. As well as this, the cast firmly grounded this film’s success. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis look beautifully alike, and played opposite, yet twin-like characters in their respective impeccable performances. Portman’s performance felt raw and powerful. Throughout each scene of the film, every emotion on her face forced you to empathise, to feel the weight of the pressure, the gut-wrenching disappointment, the inadequacy.
Yes, the film is based around many feministic aspects. We meet an emotionally distraught Nina; under the manipulative pressure of her ballet teacher Thomas (Vincent Cassel), constantly longing for his approval and attention. The film clearly antagonises Thomas – he takes advantage of his students, showing them affection, then ignoring and mistreating them. We watch Nina’s journey to achieving this mixture of stark-white purity as the white swan, and dark, entrancing sexual energy as the black swan. We see her gain perfection and empowerment in this character she’s dedicated her life to.
Yet in its oversexualisation, depiction of catty, hateful relationships between competing women, and most clearly the overused “pushed to the point of insanity” trope most often used on female characters – this film is clearly crafted by men. Thus, lacking the genuine feminism that would be fuelled by a female director. It is, unfortunately, nothing more than the male gaze.
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