Saturday, May 7, 2011

Black Swan (2010) starring Natalie Portman, story and screenplay by Andrés Heinz; screenplay also by Mark Heyman and John J. McLaughlin, is one of the most misogynist movies I've ever seen

image of movie poster is from here
Plot summary paragraph added on 8 May 2011. 

There's a lengthy rant before the review. 
If you want to cut to the chase, go down about ten paragraphs. This note was added on 21 Sept. 2012. 
***Added 12 Oct. 2012: Even easier--scroll down to the row of red asterisks!***

This post concerns misogyny, whiteness, darkness, and movie-making. I'm unsure of how it is that misogyny about white women is so revered and celebrated by men as a form of entertainment. I only know that it is, as is misogyny against any woman--it's just that Hollywood knows that if it makes movies about white people, more white people will go see the movie, in theatres or by renting the DVD. In a racist society in which there are white people--a majority population or not--where the economic system is racist too, whites will rule both socially and economically.

In the West, white men will possess more money than any other group and will hoard it using any and all means necessary, including military, legal, and police force. This is the current news story of the U.S. economic crisis--not mentioned this way exactly. Nowhere are rich white men calling for and end to the racism or the classism, coded into  financial and cultural currency, that keeps them rich, and richer, and richer. These white boys just did a calculated sell-off of oil futures. They knew that the U.S. people wouldn't tolerate gas prices above 4 bucks a gallon, and voila, as soon as that became the national average, they make their profits and now will wait to see how much more money they can make in the next quarter of the year. What is it that oil is sometimes called? Ah yes: Black Gold.

It takes a lot of men to make so many movies featuring misogyny. It also takes the support of a lot of women too. Jodie Foster is now promoting her film made with racist-misogynist Mel Gibson. As I understand it, he revealed the latest depths of his racist-misogynist raging and ranting, and abusiveness and terrorism, only after shooting of the film was completed--this is according to Jodie, who appeared on David Letterman's show and only quickly noted that Mel's behavior cannot be excused--but she said nothing else about him and has only publicly defended him as a good person.

She's quite willfully maintained a professional relationship with him long enough to determine that he's a racist misogynist--if you consider what he's said in public and done in private to be racist and misogynistic, that is--without making excuses for him.

To blame Mel's attitudes about and treatment of women across race, and of people of color across gender, and of Jews, as only a consequence of his drinking, which Roger Ebert does EXPLICITLY *here*, is to make it seem like alcohol possesses the ability to determine our attitudes about specific groups of people, which it does not. Shame on Roger Ebert for avoiding the truth of Mel Gibson's life, and to pretend his career and his abuses of women are not intimately linked. See this snippet of his review:
[H]ere is another of Mel Gibson's fine performances, a reminder that he is after all a superb actor. His personal life is in ruins because of the disease of alcoholism, which he is still struggling with. Though he's responsible for his outrageous acts and statements, I think this is not the good man I have met many times. From what I know about alcoholism, I believe he goes through personality changes, that he is content on some days and consumed by rage and madness on others, and that such changes are symptoms of the disease. Make your own diagnosis.

It took some courage on the part of Jodie Foster to direct this film. I believes she knows Gibson's good side and respects his talent. He was certainly the right choice for this material. All of his troubles through recent years are summed up by her opening shot, of an exhausted man floating on a raft in a swimming pool, his arms wide like the crucified Christ. A voice (later revealed to be the Beaver's) informs us this is Walter Black, a man so deep in depression, he has alienated his family and nearly destroyed his business.

We meet his much-suffering wife Meredith (Jodie Foster), his resentful son Porter (Anton Yelchin) and his disbelieving colleagues. Meredith finally throws him out, not without love. He buys a bottle, checks into a motel, tries to kill himself and is interrupted by the hand puppet.

And we get to feel so sorry for another privileged white het male abuser of women and his child, and of many other people too. Got it. Spare me the violins.

I understand Jodie wanting to make money off of her film. I can only hope it is her last professional collaboration with Mel Gibson. I recommend boycotting The Beaver. (And pleeease with the title--and the ridiculous story. It's not funny. It's not cute. The movie sucks. It's yet another "oh, the poor, poor very privileged MAN" movies. There have been entirely too many of those. We need far more murder-suicides where the murder isn't of a woman and the suicide is of a man who takes his own life before, not after, ruining the lives of others.) One last note on "The Beaver". (And we're not talking about *this* Beaver either, although it too celebrates the colonisation and domestication of white women.) How does one decide to name a movie after a misogynist insult to women? Jodie explained, semi-facetiously, that the title might help it sell well on DVD, because there will be het men wanting pornography who will order it. What a great idea for the selling of a serious film! (Not.) She also told us about how almost entirely wonderful her two sons are, how much better it is to have sons than daughters, and how wretchedly insulting to her Jodie's overbearing mother has been, except to her sons as a grandmother. It appears we cannot escape these themes of man-adoring and woman-hating.

I'm not sure who has more social clout: Roger Ebert or Jodie Foster. He reviews movies. She makes them. He's male and heterosexual. She's not. I've witnessed for a long time how if a woman is marginalised in some ways in Hollywood, by appearance, by sexuality, by age, or by race, she is expected to publicly support MEN, by those who pay her, more than it is expected of other women who are less marginalised. Even and especially, it appears, the most misogynistic among the menfolk are expected to be supported. What if we all stopped supporting misogynist and racist men? And stopped featuring them in movies and TV series and other programming (for example: Charlie Sheen). But there is non-gay boy-bonding of course, and it does preclude any man from speaking out against abuses that are primarily perpetrated by men against women.

Another theme in society is that when men are entranced by boys or men, they will betray women and girls utterly. This goes alongside the theme that when men are entranced by girls and women, they will betray women and girls utterly.

I guess it's men being entranced that's the problem. For when in such as state, men routinely conclude they are not in power, they are not in control, even while they take possession of and kill all who they are entranced by. That's a curious bit of logical phallusy, now isn't it? When women have been accused of taking possession of boys--such as in custody conflicts with abusive men, or of men's penises in the night, as in some of the witch trials, that never works out well for the women. If they don't burn her, they tie a stone to her ankle and toss her into the river: if she sinks, she was not a witch; if she floats, she is a witch and must be burned. Clever men: they get to destroy women either way.


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But on with the featured show.

This cinematic psychological thriller is called "Black Swan". The title comes from the ballet. The ballet comes from some of the cultures of Russia and Germany but was written by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and was later modified by his brother Modes. Almost immediately, I waged a bet with myself, not knowing much about the film's creators. I bet myself that the writers and director were all male. I bet that no woman was involved in constructing this story, as it appeared, in every respect, to be nothing other than a tangle of men's misogynist fantasies about pretty pale young females, as men define pretty, pale, young, and female, put on film. Indeed, we are led to believe that Winona Ryder, who plays the "aging" dancer, is so far over the hill that she might as well be dead. Oh, that's practically a spoiler alert. To the extent that she is alive, one has to ask: why is she alive and for whom? Surely not herself.

Here's the main plot: a young, thin, white woman who is pretty according to conventional Hollywood and Madison Avenue standards, is grossly and abusively manipulated in body and mind by a prestigious white het male choreographer of a revival of the ballet, Swan Lake. She hopes he will cast her in the role of Swan Queen which would allow her to perform (dance) as both the White Swan and the Black Swan. She lives with her mother; she is attracted to another woman dancer. And she is battling with various forms of psychosis as she is brought close to a complete mental breakdown well-choreographed by the instructor/choreographer.

The story braids together these themes: white heterosexualised female beauty being overpowering to presumably straight white men; men's need to control, manipulate, and dominate women sadistically, socially, and sexually; people changing from birds to humans; goodness and purity of love represented by whiteness and lightness; evil and seduction by blackness and darkness; and the on-going question men seem to have about women's sanity. The sexist and racist themes are well represented--more symbolically with the racism, more interpersonally with the sexism. (Where HAVE I heard this before??? Oh, I've written about it *here*.)

Added to those are "problems" of lesbianism and how closely it relates, to the filmmakers, to a woman's insanity. Crazy = dark = female. Crazy = dark female. Dark = crazy female. Female = dark and crazy. Remember that. When a woman is darkest, she is at her most insane, according to white het men's myths.

One of the messages of the film as written is that attraction to men is sometimes destructive, but attraction among women is only destructive and all attraction among women amounts to incest in one form or another. You know women: they can't tell one from the other! Mom sees herself in her daughter; daughter sees herself in her female dance competitor. (Sarcasm alert: Thank goodness it isn't men who mistake different women for one another! Ask any consumer of Playboy: he'll be able to tell you what distinguishes about Miss April from Miss August. But it won't be the depth or breadth of the women's humanity, I assure you.) To the extent that such attraction among white thin females is sexualised in the film, it must be presented to het men publicly for their own private enjoyment. Again and again and again. We are allowed--or is it forced?--to gaze upon Portman's breasts, covered only in a very thin white leotard. It, like her own skin, will not keep any man out.

One of many misogynist sub-plots in Black Swan might just as be described thusly: "See how male filmmakers write and direct a story requiring Natalie Portman to fake masturbation and orgasm as often as possible." Her character can try to keep her mother out of her "private" sexual life in the fantasy sequences in the film, using a wood pole, curiously. In the reality scenes, she cannot keep men out, publicly or otherwise: there aren't enough wood poles around when she needs them to beat the predatory man over the head, or to use to stab men in the crotch or the eyes. Men wouldn't write such scenes anyway. Sighted men don't stay aroused by seeing men hit in the crotch or the eyes by a woman. They "feel" such assaults viscerally, in the groin or they eyes not as pleasure. Most men want their erections and their vision too, and use both to penetrate women's bodies which, in men's stories, are everything but private.

All the disgusting invasive assaults against Portman's character--and there are so many I lost count--are meant to evoke pleasurable responses from men, or a kind of revulsion-titillation response, typical of how men view women they lust for and simultaneously hate. This movie is a het male serial rapist and fatherly incest perpetrator's delight. Just check the demographic of who is renting it. I predict it will be (or already is) mostly white het men. Like over 90%.

"Art"--using the term loosely, sometimes, is pornography: the graphic depiction of woman-as-wh*res. Women are depicted and referenced as "wh*res" throughout this film--whether or not they are "frigid" or "hot", they are wh*res and must be sexually available to men when men want them to be. Portman's character has the scratches on her back to prove it. Roger Ebert only alludes to this; he doesn't use the word "misogyny" at all, which I find shocking as I know he is conscious of it both as a term and a social reality. *Here's his review*. But true to form, the female lead only ever wants or admires the man who possesses and destroys her--even while she resists him; she only resents the woman who possesses and seeks to protect her, and also resists her. Portman's character attempts to tear down her mother's image, which fantastically mocks and shames her. But the male lead who tears at her and breaks her down can only be either secretly desired or submitted to. Alas, in misogynist cinema and other stories, is there any difference between the two?

This was one of the more disturbing films I've ever seen--unrelentingly disturbing, in fact. It wasn't just that it was gross--and it was gross--repulsive--a lot. What was repulsive was how the writers and director subjects the audience to scenes that seem only to exist to make the viewer recoil or retch. There seriously ought to be a trigger warning on this movie for anyone with an eating disorder that involves self-starvation or throwing up. It's not a safe movie; not only for that reason.

In addition to Portman's body being scratched, it is also bloodied in many other ways--indeed, menstruation is the only blood-event not mentioned. This was clue number 5000 that it was written by a man or by men. She peels back her own skin, off of her finger; she examines her cracked and bloody toenail; she gazes at lesions by her fingernails; she presses her fingers into abrasions; she sticks things into her flesh; she tears at herself. This is the most perversely self-touching movie of a young woman I've ever seen. But then again, I haven't seen much pornography in the last 25 or more years.

This fictional woman who is spawned from the utterly infertile minds of men (Russian, German, and U.S. American) has a boundary called "skin" that betrays her; or she betrays it. But underneath all the peeling, picking, pinching, poking, and bleeding, if you're paying attention, is a story of how men ruin women's lives. You just have to endure all the very graphic female self-injury along the way. It was like watching a movie of a bird systematically and painfully plucking out its own feathers. Oh, she does some of that too.

This and boy-war movies like Platoon rank up there in "movies I plan never to see again". Watching movies about how men graphically and violently destroy other men and how men pornographically destroy women isn't my idea of a good cinematic time. But men do love their violence and violations, don't they? And it's only when feminists notice this theme that men take umbrage and deny it altogether.

Men can do whatever they want to women--men have demonstrated this enough times for it to be received as an unquestionable statement of truth. Men can and do possess women and girls. Men can and do rape women and girls. Men can and do dictate the terms by which many women live their lives, and thrust, assert, and insinuate themselves into women's and girls' lives in such ways that women's freedom with men is not possible, and the only freedom women have from invasion is to live without men. Men arrange societies so that the only way to accomplish that is by not living at all. Suicide-as-liberation, I'd argue, is not a pro-feminist idea. Liberation by murdering the male invaders, the male abusers, the male violators: that to me is pro-feminist because it removes from men the complete lack of accountability that men currently enjoy and exploit in too many ways to imagine or contemplate. Instead, it seems we all want to think of men as "good" at least some of the time. That men choose to waver dangerously between something called "goodness" to something called "evil" only shows us how easily men project their own moral and sexual struggles onto women, making women the source of all that is good or bad in men--as if men weren't in charge at all.

It is a primary conceit of contemporary corporate pornography--and all mass produced material that is about "pornos" graphically, that because women's sexual power is greater than nuclear, wind, hydraulic, and solar power combined, it must be tamed, controlled, and punished by men. So too must animals. So too must the Earth, sea, and sky. There is nothing that white men, in particular, can keep their grubby hands off of. And there is nothing they touch that is not ruined, made to feel or be utterly without value or worth. It's like The Golden Touch in reverse, a curse from which there appears to be no remedy or relief.

Black Swan (from IMDb):
Directed by
Darren Aronofsky 

Writing credits
Mark Heymanscreenplay
Andres Heinzscreenplay
John J. McLaughlinscreenplay
Andres Heinzstory

6 comments:

ella said...

hey, just came by here. a great theme for a blog. you could boil your posts down tho (a lot) :)

i think black swan is, in a way, picturing how women need to give themselves up to get anywhere. that doesnt change the racism, or the fact that (most?) men that see it will view suffering/ sexualized women in sick ways. i share your views to a great extent... and im shocked by the interpretations of it that i've found. people consider sexism to be normal, even entertaining.

good luck with your blog!
ella

Julian Real said...

Hi ella,

I agree with you. I also think that's what the film is about. But there are lots of films about that sbuject--across the decades--and they've been much better and have spared the viewer all the woman-hating images and themes.

I didn't even mention the scene with an elderly white man on a subway train making "sex noises". And I needed to see that why? And did we--I mean here: did anyone at all?--need to see the main character be self-abusive in such graphic ways why so often?

Can filmmakers depict mental unwellness combined with being horribly manipulated by a man without having to skeeve out the audience--in such obviously intentional ways that, imo, truly detract from the point of the movie? This film did things I've not seen done all together in one movie--combining so many misogynist/anti-lesbian/racist elements and themes, symbolic and otherwise, into one film that wasn't being sold as pornography, that was passing itself off as a "legitimate Hollywood" film--if there is such a thing.

And I agree some of my posts need to be shorter and more concise.

Bloke Swan said...

Hi, thanks for saying what no one else seems to be saying. I've just watched the film on DVD, and couldn't believe how awful it was. Andrea Dworkin must be howling in her grave.
Poor little girl can't express herself personally or artistically, because she is sexually repressed. Her mum won't let her grow up, and it is not until she penetrates herslf with a piece of mirror that she can achieve 'perfection'. What a steaming piece of male crap. Like you I knew it was written by a man before the credits, and not just one man- three took the writing 'honours'.
It is possible to cover these subjects ina grown-up way. Watch 'The Piano Teacher'. If the writers of Black Swan had watched that film first, maybe they would not have bothered with their infantile effort.

Julian Real said...

Thanks for the comment, Bloke Swan! I'm glad you saw the same shite in it that I did.

Fede said...

Great post - in some ways several posts in one, but the entire thing is the truth, and that matters the most.

I have a yonger brother (very dear to me) who loves Black Swan. He is a budding profeminist, and in many ways he has good taste in movies, but he just doesn't see the matrix for what it is. (Ha. See what I did there?) I think I'll direct him to this post. He needs to wake up - and so do everyone else, lord knows, but I just try to touch the lives of those near to me.

I know a lot of people who dislike 'strident feminist rhetoric'. They don't understand how we (the feministically inclined) can stand to be so angry all the time. But reading this piece doesn't make me angry. Hearing people deny the obvious - that the tens of thousands of films like these buttress misogynist white supremacy - that's what makes me angry. Seeing the truth spoken for once? Makes me happy. Thanks!

Julian Real said...

Thank you so much for your comment, Fede!! I hope your younger brother comes to read the review here and that he and I can openly discuss his own views of it.