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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Black Swan

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

"The road of excess," claimed the poet William Blake, "leads to the palace of wisdom." For the main character in "Black Swan" (Fox Searchlight) -- director Darren Aronofsky's nightmarish, morally muddled drama set in the highly demanding world of classical ballet -- that well-worn path leads to a very different destination.

Consumed by dedication to her art, dancer Nina (Natalie Portman) longs to play the dual leading roles of the White and Black Swans in her company's forthcoming production of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake." Though artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) considers the shy and inhibited but gifted performer perfect for the pure White Swan, he doubts her ability to carry off the part of the villainous Black Swan, an onstage embodiment of guile and sensuality.

So Thomas urges Nina to get in touch—in the first instance, quite literally—with her sexuality.

To do so, however, Nina must rebel against her strict, overprotective mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), with whom she still lives. A former ballerina whose career went nowhere, Erica is obsessed—or so at least it seems to Nina—with fulfilling her dreams of success vicariously through her daughter.

Nina gains a role model in hedonistic living—and a rival for center stage—when passionate newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) joins the troupe. Their much-talked-about bedroom encounter—the culmination of a night of drunken and drug-fueled carousing—marks the nadir of the film's voyeuristic excess.

Though Portman turns in a striking performance, teeter-tottering on the edge of sanity, Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin's script plays on the extremes of sexual repression and debauched license, ignoring the healthy middle ground of erotic love expressed within a committed marital relationship.

Whether read as insisting on the necessity of indiscriminate experience or as a cautionary tale weighted in the opposite direction—Nina's fate sadly parallels that of the tragic White Swan—this dark fable presents its heroine's experimentation far too graphically.

The film contains strong sexual content, including graphic lesbian and nonmarital heterosexual activity, as well as masturbation, drug use, a few instances of profanity, much rough and some crude language and numerous sexual references. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Heavenly Father, I am sure there are frequently tiny miracles where you protect us and are present to us although you always remain anonymous. Help me appreciate how carefully you watch over me and my loved ones all day long, and be sensitive enough to stay close to you. I ask this in Jesus's name. Amen.

 
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