Swan on Swan – Black Swan’s Sexy Tropes

Last weekend I saw Black Swan with porn cohort Drew DeVeaux. Actually, the fact that the two of us saw it together was perfect, considering the fact that the two of us have dance backgrounds (and pulled those into our scene together in Roulette Toronto). Sharing a bag of M&Ms and water, we cuddled and ooohed and aaaahed over the various brilliant moments of horror and exquisite ballet technique. I had been interested in seeing the film (dance background, and love for Darren Aronofsky twisted characters aside) because of the thing everyone was talking about: there’s a lesbian sex scene, passed by the MPAA.

The MPAA (Movie Pictures Association of America) is, for all intents and purposes, one of the most ass-backwards ratings panel there has ever been. Anyone who’s seen This Film Will Not Be Rated can remember the censorship of Boys Don’t Cry’s sex scene and other queer and sexually authentic portrayals of pleasure, while physical and communicative violence pass with flying colors. With that in mind, I was surprised to read that the lesbian sex scene in Black Swan, supposedly very similar to that in Blue Valentine, passed while the former was given the NC-17 rating. Why was Blue Valentine (a straight cunnilingus scene) given the limiting NC-17 rating while Black Swan exalted with the prized R-rating?

Perhaps it was the realism. I haven’t seen Blue Valentine yet, though there’s a fantastic clip of the cunnilingous in question over at Fleshbot. Having watched it, I’d say it was the realism that squeeked the MPAA. Black Swan, on the other hand, reads more like Girl-on-Girl (Swan-on-Swan?) which makes complete sense when you consider Black Swan’s scene happens in Nina’s mind — it’s fantastical. (A more realistic — and fucking hottt — scene is Nina’s masturbation attempt.)

Actually the use of sexuality in Black Swan was one of the reasons I loved it so much. The queer and sexual awakening tropes of sex, death, narcissism, and more had me nodding along to the narrative as a beautiful retelling of Swan Lake, complete with “Rothbart” as Nina’s mother/captor. Except that in Swan Lake, the young woman kills herself when the prince does not return her love. In Black Swan, she finds her own love, and kills herself via penetration. Her journey is one of self-love, her ultimate petite morte foreshadowed with several failed attempts (particularly the underwater bathtub vision and pillow smothering). What at first appears to be a homo-erotic desire for the same, her attraction/repulsion to her counterpart Lily, eventually reveals itself as a mirror reflection of her sexual ego. Speaking of mirrors, I think it’s fantastic that they were used so often through horror — the use of them in ballet and also as a literal example of her self-reflection is perfect. Nina’s mirrored self was Lily, the sexually confident, free woman who embodies sex and drugs and love from… where else? San Francisco.

Most orgasmic, naturally, was the climax of the Coda of the Black Swan. The transformation, almost werewolf like (I can’t help it, my friend wrote a lesbian werewolf novel) came to form in Nina’s flawless and computer generated solo where she sprouts her wings and “nails” her performance. I think I could watch that scene a million times. Sex is not an undertone in Black Swan, it is quite literally the directive force of Thomas Leroy, the Ballet’s Director, and Portman herself even says the role helped her career develop into adulthood.

While there’s a million more things I can say about Black Swan, ballet and dance as a medium and its exclusive¬†euro-centric beauty standards (the irony here is that European ballet companies are far less racist in their casting), and the fact that ballet is incredibly gendered while at the same time a harbor of queer histories and metaphorically a double phallis (penis pointe shoes, develope erections galore, hello!) I’ll wrap this up with something more entertaining than the Black Swan trailer itself: a Showgirls meets Black Swan mash-up. (Thanks @tristancrane for the find!)

Showgirls | Black Swan Trailer MASH UP from Jeffrey McHale on Vimeo.


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