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Black Swan

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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Marie-Rose Durocher: Canada was one diocese from coast to coast during the first eight years of Marie-Rose Durocher’s life. Its half-million Catholics had received civil and religious liberty from the English only 44 years before. When Marie-Rose was 29, Bishop Ignace Bourget became bishop of Montreal. He would be a decisive influence in her life. 
<p>He faced a shortage of priests and sisters and a rural population that had been largely deprived of education. Like his counterparts in the United States, he scoured Europe for help and himself founded four communities, one of which was the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Its first sister and reluctant co-foundress was Marie-Rose. </p><p>She was born in a little village near Montreal in 1811, the 10th of 11 children. She had a good education, was something of a tomboy, rode a horse named Caesar and could have married well. At 16, she felt the desire to become a religious but was forced to abandon the idea because of her weak constitution. At 18, when her mother died, her priest brother invited her and her father to come to his parish in Beloeil, not far from Montreal. For 13 years she served as housekeeper, hostess and parish worker. She became well known for her graciousness, courtesy, leadership and tact; she was, in fact, called “the saint of Beloeil.” Perhaps she was too tactful during two years when her brother treated her coldly. </p><p>As a young woman she had hoped there would someday be a community of teaching sisters in every parish, never thinking she would found one. But her spiritual director, Father Pierre Telmon, O.M.I., after thoroughly (and severely) leading her in the spiritual life, urged her to found a community herself. Bishop Bourget concurred, but Marie-Rose shrank from the prospect. She was in poor health and her father and her brother needed her. </p><p>She finally agreed and, with two friends, Melodie Dufresne and Henriette Cere, entered a little home in Longueuil, across the Saint Lawrence River from Montreal. With them were 13 young girls already assembled for boarding school. Longueuil became successively her Bethlehem, Nazareth and Gethsemani. She was 32 and would live only six more years—years filled with poverty, trials, sickness and slander. The qualities she had nurtured in her “hidden” life came forward—a strong will, intelligence and common sense, great inner courage and yet a great deference to directors. Thus was born an international congregation of women religious dedicated to education in the faith. </p><p>She was severe with herself and by today’s standards quite strict with her sisters. Beneath it all, of course, was an unshakable love of her crucified Savior. </p><p>On her deathbed the prayers most frequently on her lips were “Jesus, Mary, Joseph! Sweet Jesus, I love you. Jesus, be to me Jesus!” Before she died, she smiled and said to the sister with her, “Your prayers are keeping me here—let me go.” </p><p>She was beatified in 1982.</p> American Catholic Blog It is in them [the saints] that Christian love becomes credible; they are the poor sinners’ guiding stars. But every one of them wishes to point completely away from himself and toward love…. The genuine saints desired nothing but the greater glory of God’s love… <br />—Hans Urs von Balthasar

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