What follows is a rant. If you’re not in the mood, then my summary of Black Swan is “Fight Club for chicks” (no not this). Otherwise, read on…
I fear that my regular anti-Hollywood diatribes here might paint an impression of me as an extreme right-wing puritan. I’m no bible-thumper (any more), but I do have a strong conservative bent that regularly puts me at odds with the values of Tinseltown.
There are several self-serving ideas that the industry patriarchs (that is, studio execs) would like you to believe:
- illicit drugs are the cure to an uptight, boring existence;
- sex is merely a recreational activity, and emotions are a bothersome inconvenience;
- being attractive and sleeping around is the only way to get to the top.
Darren Aronofsky’s most recent release fits squarely into these three values*. If Inception is an allegory for movie-making then Black Swan is surely the tale of a studio executive.
In the movie, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) is the director of a ballet company. He brutally dismisses his former leading lady, Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) and elevates the hapless but dedicated ingenue Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman). Cracking under the extreme pressure to prove herself to Leroy, her mental state degenerates, as a rivalry forms between her and the flawed but effortlessly talented Lily (Mila Kunis) – closely mirroring the plot of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, Swan Lake.
Now imagine Leroy as the studio executive, Beth as the previously successful but fading director (say Bryan Singer, director of X-Men, X2 and then… Superman Returns), Nina as the newcomer with impeccable technical skills but lacking in endurance (Shane Carruth, Primer), and Lily as the industry stalwart that often gets called upon to deliver crowd pleasers (Michael Bay, the Transformers franchise).
The analogy isn’t perfect: I’m not suggesting that the named directors had to sleep their way to the top – that idea you can lift literally from the movie – but they certainly are otherwise at the mercy of the nameless and faceless men (and by all accounts they are all inevitably men) that dictate who gets to be successful and who disappears into obscurity.
So as the Oscars are dispensed this weekend, get out the tinfoil hat, pick your favourite conspiracy theory, and marvel at the power of these invisible hands that manipulate the players of the industry like so many chess pieces.
* I’m not the only one to have noticed that this movie sits at the intersection of a few base themes.