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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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Athanasius: Athanasius led a tumultuous but dedicated life of service to the Church. He was the great champion of the faith against the widespread heresy of Arianism, the teaching by Arius that Jesus was not truly divine. The vigor of his writings earned him the title of doctor of the Church. 
<p>Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt, and given a classical education, Athanasius became secretary to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, entered the priesthood and was eventually named bishop himself. His predecessor, Alexander, had been an outspoken critic of a new movement growing in the East—Arianism. </p><p>When Athanasius assumed his role as bishop of Alexandria, he continued the fight against Arianism. At first it seemed that the battle would be easily won and that Arianism would be condemned. Such, however, did not prove to be the case. The Council of Tyre was called and for several reasons that are still unclear, the Emperor Constantine exiled Athanasius to northern Gaul. This was to be the first in a series of travels and exiles reminiscent of the life of St. Paul. </p><p>After Constantine died, his son restored Athanasius as bishop. This lasted only a year, however, for he was deposed once again by a coalition of Arian bishops. Athanasius took his case to Rome, and Pope Julius I called a synod to review the case and other related matters. </p><p>Five times Athanasius was exiled for his defense of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. During one period of his life, he enjoyed 10 years of relative peace—reading, writing and promoting the Christian life along the lines of the monastic ideal to which he was greatly devoted. His dogmatic and historical writings are almost all polemic, directed against every aspect of Arianism. </p><p>Among his ascetical writings, his<i> Life of St. Anthony</i> (January 17) achieved astonishing popularity and contributed greatly to the establishment of monastic life throughout the Western Christian world.</p> American Catholic Blog Suffering is redemptive in part because it definitively reveals to man that he is not in fact God, and it thereby opens the human person to receive the divine.

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