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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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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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