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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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Katharine Drexel: If your father is an international banker and you ride in a private railroad car, you are not likely to be drawn into a life of voluntary poverty. But if your mother opens your home to the poor three days each week and your father spends half an hour each evening in prayer, it is not impossible that you will devote your life to the poor and give away millions of dollars. Katharine Drexel did that. 
<p>She was born in Philadelphia in 1858. She had an excellent education and traveled widely. As a rich girl, she had a grand debut into society. But when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death, and her life took a profound turn. </p><p>She had always been interested in the plight of the Indians, having been appalled by what she read in Helen Hunt Jackson’s <i>A Century of Dishonor</i>. While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities. </p><p>Back home, Katharine visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Indian missions. </p><p>She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O’Connor, she wrote in 1889, “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.” Newspaper headlines screamed “Gives Up Seven Million!” </p><p>After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942 she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established 50 missions for Indians in 16 states. </p><p>Two saints met when Katharine was advised by Mother Cabrini about the “politics” of getting her Order’s Rule approved in Rome. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans. </p><p>At 77, she suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. Apparently her life was over. But now came almost 20 years of quiet, intense prayer from a small room overlooking the sanctuary. Small notebooks and slips of paper record her various prayers, ceaseless aspirations and meditation. She died at 96 and was canonized in 2000.</p> American Catholic Blog Our task during these forty days is to examine our lives in light of God’s Word and see where we’ve allowed darkness to creep in, where we’ve taken the bait of the diabolical fisher of men. It’s time to use the sword of the Spirit to cut through his web of deception, to free ourselves from the net that holds us as prey.


 
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