Blogging “Black Swan” (Part 3)
• The next morning, Nina is awake in bed looking moderately miserable. Her right hand goes beneath the blanket as she decides to try out Thomas’ advice. It starts working, and eventually Nina rolls over onto her stomach. As she does, we get a good look at her bedroom, which is all decorated in pink and lined with floppy stuffed animals, most of them in ballet costumes. (At this point, my sock puppet who stands in for the reader asks me, “Seriously, you’re looking at the background of the picture?” Well, yeah, I am now. It’s not like I was looking there the first time I saw the movie.) Nina’s bedroom is a little girl’s bedroom, and this fits with a pattern of dancers being infantilized, something that’s too often found in the ballet world. The female dancers are usually called “girls” and the male dancers are often called “boys.” You know where else this happens? In the porn industry! That’s not the most flattering comparison. Nina remains in a state of girlhood, and both Erica and Thomas are happy to keep her there. That’s a source of many of her problems. Where was I? Oh, yeah, Nina was pleasuring herself. The camera gives us a closeup of her rear end (wearing a pair of pink panties) raised in the air, and this is the one point where I feel the movie’s depiction of sex shades over into exploitation. As Nina inches closer to orgasm, she looks to her side and we get Horror Movie Trick No. 2 as she sees her mom asleep in a chair next to her bed. The music on the soundtrack audibly gasps, and the editing cuts from a tight shot of Erica to a shot slightly further back. Nina immediately stops what she’s doing, turns over, and pulls the covers back over her. The scene always gets a laugh, especially since Nina isn’t caught. It may be small potatoes compared with what will come later, but most people find the idea of being caught masturbating by their mom to be pretty horrifying.
• Later that day, Nina and the other dancers in the company are practicing their grands jetés when they’re interrupted by a female dancer running in in tears. She tells the ballet mistress that Beth is in a hospital. There’s a nice shot of the entire room, as all the dancers stride toward her to hear the news.
• Nina and Thomas are sitting by one of the fountains at Lincoln Center as he gives her the details. Beth got hit by a car, and he echoes my feeling that this is no accident, and that Beth threw herself in front of the vehicle. Thomas then gives a badly written speech about how “everything Beth does comes from within, from some dark impulse” that makes her a great artist and a self-destructive person. Nina wonders whether Beth tried to kill herself right after their encounter at the party, but Thomas tells her not to think about that, saying “This is your moment. Don’t let it go.”
• Nina walks down the corridors of the hospital and into the suite where Beth is sitting upright in bed but asleep. The right side of Beth’s body is traumatized, so she must have been on a traffic median before her accident/suicide attempt. (Either that, or she got hit in a country where they drive on the left lane, but that conjecture is really stupid.) The room is filled with floral bouquets from well-wishers, and Nina adds her small pot of flowers to the mix. Then she goes over to Beth’s bedside and gently lifts up the covers to see the big steel pin holding Beth’s femur together. Nina’s face fills with fear and pity as she lifts up the sheet lower down. That’s where she sees the big, jagged red gash running the length of Beth’s calf and we get Horror Movie Trick No. 3: Nina recoils in terror and backs away, straight into a middle-aged nurse who asks what she’s doing. Turning around and fleeing the room is what she’s doing.
• Nina is recovering from the shock in the dressing room that she now has all to herself. Seated before the vanity, she looks herself in the mirror, straightens up, and opens a case containing all the items she’s stolen from Beth along with the lipstick that we saw earlier. These include a pack of cigarettes and a pointed metal nail file, and when I saw that last item during my first viewing of this, I freaked the hell out when I saw that because I thought Nina was going to mutilate herself. It turns out the compulsive scratching is Nina’s choice of self-harm. On the metal band around the lipstick case, there’s a red six-pointed design that I originally took to be a Star of David, which would be a nice little nod to the heavy Jewish presence in this movie. (Aronofsky, Portman, Kunis, and Ryder are all Jews.) Sadly, on closer examination, it just turns out to be an abstract six-pointed floral design, so that would be me reading too much into the film. Nina looks herself in the mirror again sadly, as if all the pressure’s on her now and she’s wondering whether it’ll make her turn out like Beth.
• That night, Nina goes out into the hallway of her apartment building to throw out the trash. As with most buildings in Manhattan, there’s a trash chute that the whole floor uses. Nina looks around the alcove that houses the chute and finds a bunch of sticks of wood of various lengths. She picks one out. She sneaks back into her apartment, closing the door as quietly as possible. She takes off her boots and walks over silently to the door of her mom’s room, where Erica is working on one of her paintings. Her back is to Nina and us, but we hear her weeping as she paints her younger self. There’s nothing about this that isn’t unhealthy. Nina goes to her room, again closes the door quietly, and tries the stick of wood on the floor against the door. It works; the door only opens a few inches. Erica hears her and asks from the other room if Nina’s ready to be tucked in. Nina quickly picks up the stick, hides it under her bed, and jumps under the covers just before Erica gets there.
• A brief montage: Nina rehearses a waltz with David, while Thomas tells her again that she’s too stiff. We see Nina on the massage table, with a masseuse placing her hand underneath Nina’s ribcage, sinking in very deep as Nina exhales. Then we see the masseuse working on a busted-up pair of feet that’s totally not Natalie Portman’s. Non-dancers are always somewhat aghast to see this, but dancers know how their profession tends to wreak havoc on one’s feet.
• Thomas cuts the rehearsal short again, turns to David and asks, “Honestly, would you fuck that girl?” I don’t like Millepied’s smirking reaction here — I can’t tell if David actually finds that funny or if he’s appalled but laughing to cover that up. Thomas starts in again on how frigid Nina is when the lights suddenly go out. I’d repeat how tiresome this is, but I’d rather just link to the Saturday Night Live parody of Black Swan, which skewers the movie pretty well on this point. (Really, though, the point of the sketch seems to be the shot at the end with Jim Carrey in the Black Swan makeup, which is almost as terrifying as anything in the movie.) Thomas swears and calls backstage for the building people to turn them back on. When they’re back on, Thomas dismisses both David and John the rehearsal pianist, ordering Nina to stay behind. David says, “Have fun, you two.” Thomas then rehearses Nina himself, humming the tune to keep them in time. He tries to kiss her hand, but Nina pulls away. While he’s lifting her, he shifts his hand from her hips to underneath her thighs, and asks her to respond to his touch. Then he gets more forceful, kissing her and ordering her to open her mouth. She does, and it does seem to be working for her. Then he abruptly stops and walks out, saying, “That was me seducing you, when it should be the other way around.” As Nina pleads with him to, I don’t know, stay, there’s a nice long shot of the studio that emphasizes how small she is. Sexual harassment in ballet is certainly a reality, but I think the movie handles this rather clumsily.