The Black Swan’s central problem is that the heterosexual Aronofsky, who directed Mickey Rourke so well in The Wrestler two years ago, appears more inspired by professional wrestling than by ballet. Despite Aronofsky’s undoubted cleverness (Harvard Class of ’91), he seems to love the idea of ballet far more than he cares for ballet itself. A film stronger on analysis than artfulness, The Black Swan’s dancing, while competently filmed, is seldom electrifying.
Macaulay, who certainly is a better judge of ballet than me, comes to similar conclusions:
Though “Black Swan” certainly feels hostile to ballet, I don’t think it means to be. Its real objective — above and beyond that of so many women’s movies — is to imply that a woman’s truest fulfillment is as (heterosexual) lover, wife and mother, and therefore that Nina’s best artistic successes can never compensate for her personal sacrifices. The “Black Swan” view of ballet is that it’s an unnatural art in which women deny too many normal aspects of womanhood.
There is copious evidence to support that view. Witness such dancer autobiographies as Ms. Kirkland’s and Toni Bentley’s “Winter Season” (1982). Ms. Bentley describes how, when she has her third monthly period in a row, colleagues in her dressing room ask, “Are you sure you’re a dancer?” True dancers, according to that attitude, don’t have normal female functions.
To these negatives ballet brings many positives: energy, responsiveness to music, discipline, teamwork, idealism, interpretative fulfillment. Not so “Black Swan.” It’s both irresistible and odious. I was gripped by its melodrama, but its nightmarish view of both ballet and women is not one I’m keen to see again. As a horror movie, it’s not extreme. As a woman’s movie, however, it’s the end of the line.
Most depressingly, Nina is just not a great role. She’s too much a victim — the film makes her helpless, passive — to be seriously involving. Though she enjoys triumph, we never see the willpower that gets her there, just the psychosis and the martyrdom. It’s the latest hit movie for misogynists.