You and Deeper Movie Meanings

I recently asked if it were possible to have discussions about pop culture without it becoming a food fight.

A couple people–to my delight–wondered the same thing.

Smut Clyde asked (with tongue-in-cheek, I suspect) “why bother?”

Dan Coyle reminds us why: Because when you can just discuss a thing, it’s just plain fun. Plus, you might learn a thing or two.

Fer instance, when I got all annoyed because someone on Internet was wrong about “Little Miss Sunshine,” I searched out a clip of the climax and watched it. And when I watched it, I discovered I had completely missed the point of the scene the first time around. I thought it had just been a way for the family to come together in a way that was played for shocks and laughs. Well, there was considerably more to it than that. The filmmakers were obviously making a statement about the sexualization of the little girls in beauty pageants. (Seriously, the pageant scene is ick-gross.) It was ironic, you see, that Little Miss Sunshine’s outrageously inappropriate dance was far more joyful and–in its own way–innocent than anything you’d normally see at these events. I didn’t get that until I went back and watched the scene and thought about it. And that’s why I think discussion sans hyperbole is helpful.

So while I’m here, pondering deeper movie meanings, I was wondering if any of you wanted to offer up an interpretation of the pretty terrific–I thought–“Black Swan.” *SPOILERS STARTING NOW* The best I could tell was that all the weird stuff, the hallucinations, were just a metaphors for Nina completely losing herself to her single-minded obsession–to play the swan queen. I’ve searched out other opinions and much to my chagrin found people offering up explanations like Nina was sexually abused by her mother. Um, WHAT?! There is nothing in the story to suggest that even slightly…Although certainly her mother is overbearing and smothering. Not abusive, though. Hell, was her mother in even real? At this point I’m questioning even that.

And then the charge that Nina was schizophrenic. I’m sorry, I don’t see where that makes sense. That would make the story about a ballerina with mental health issues. Granted, Nina has issues. Big ones…schizophernia isn’t one of them; that seems so dull an explanation. Instead I think it’s simply of a story of frightening obsession. The former doesn’t even seem like a story worth telling to me, whereas the latter is so much more compelling a concept.

What are your thoughts on “Black Swan?”

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19 thoughts on “You and Deeper Movie Meanings

  1. I could leave a completely uninformed comment, based on having seen neither of these movies….
    ~

  2. Well, I live in a bunker inside a cave, & I haven’t seen a movie squares would see since Julie & Julia three yrs. ago. But I’m w/ Bimler/Smut on this; Why bother? Really, what in hell could anyone else know that might influence my aesthetic decisions?

  3. I don’t think The Black Swan is deep, I think it’s a coherent horror movie. The hallucinations weren’t metaphorical, they were “real”, helped along by the atmosphere of the ballet world, which encourages obsession, weirdness, unhealthiness, et cetera. Schizophrenia is a better metaphor than just obsession as the part demanded a bifurcation of her personality – not The Swan Queen but The Swan Queens – and she either achieved that or you have to wonder if the entire film is a hallucination, which I don’t think is satisfying.

    The tension is what her fate will be and how anyone can spot someone going bananas in such a fucked-up atmosphere…and where (and how morally suspect) the art is if it takes being driven insane to produce it.

    • But the one guy didn’t say anything about the schizophrenia being metaphorical, he was suggesting that that was at the bottom of everything. Which, if true, would make the movie significantly lamer. I think there has to be something purely symbolic or supernatural afoot. Otherwise, *yawn.* At least, it would have me yawning. As I understand (or don’t understand) the movie right now, I find it unsettling and engrossing.

      • Actually, I shouldn’t have said the schizophrenia is metaphorical, but then I shouldn’t be diagnosing anyone as schizophrenic. Nina’s out of her mind, helped along by everyone around her. Me, I think that’s interesting.

        Once I had a friend who was taking some anti-OCD meds and she talked about how there are so many female rituals to deal with that you could really submerge a lot of that behaviour in it and just be seen as fastidious about your looks or something. The Black Swan is kind of like that to me. The choreographer is encouraging her to break boundaries of her repressed sexuality and let loose what she’s kept wrapped up in her head. See also every David Cronenberg film.

      • Oh no. I TOTALLY agree that Nina’s losing it…but at the risk of sounding like an asshole, I’ve researched schizophrenia (because of my history of depression and debilitating anxiety) and it’s a very specific disorder with very specific tells (that usually start in the late teens). Also, it’s very mundane. It’s a thing people suffer from and we shouldn’t stigmatize it. And the movie was very weird and druggy and surreal, and somehow didn’t feel like some tragic tale of “ballet dancer discovers she’s schizophrenic.”

        Am I crazy? Probably.

      • As a formerly-committed (!) DSM reader, yes it’s dumb to go with schizophrenia, but this is the easy thing people jump to when there are conspiratorial hallucinations and some sort of wild personality alteration. So sure, it’s wrong to do so. At the same time the meltdown is an expression of her milieu, so if you want to make this ballet horror go there’s not really anything to do but stigmatize mental illness and pushy parents and a form of art and all its participants.

      • Do you REALLY want to get me started about the diagnostic features of schizophrenia? Wouldn’t you rather hear about the Salted Pineapple trade?

  4. Why bother?
    This was not intended as a knock at popular culture, but rather a reminder that without the douchery you are missing most of the fun.

  5. My thoughts on Black Swan are that my decision to avoid Natalie Portman like the plague since Revenge of the Sith was a sound one (Well, I did watch, for some reason I cannot fathom, Don Roos’ interminable The Other Woman).

    What I love about that scene at the end of Little Miss Sunshine- and the commentary about pagenants had totally gone over my head- was that it’s built up in your mind as something really wonderful and charming since ol’ granddad worked on it with her. Then you hear “Super Freak” and it completely flips the script on these underdogs and points out just how damaged the family really is. It’s funny, but the laughs also stick in your throat.

    Another film that does that sort of thing- and quite a bit more skillfully- is the hockey movie Goon, with Seann William Scott. It’s one of the best movies of the year, because it’s a sports comedy that’s also a ruthless indictment of what it’s examining. Most of the hockey fights in the move are filmed almost comedically, but then you get to the climatic fight, and the director really wants you to feel how badly Scott’s body is being destroyed. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  6. I have not seen Black Swan so I have no opinion to share there. I just happened to catch the end of Little Miss Sunshine on the tube about a week ago. I didn’t even know the name of the movie until your blog enlightened me. So, seeing the end without the rest of the movie for context, I immediately picked up on the pageant commentary. I saw it as a kid having fun playing at being an adult as a kid sees adult rather than the rest of the kids who are coached at playing at being an adult as the adults see themselves. Then having the adults come up and plat at being kids with her was just great.

    Also, I happened to have this playlist running when I checked in here. It works well with the Little Miss Sunshine dance troupe.

  7. Hated it. She had way too many symptoms to have just one or two mental disorders, and on top of that she was a high-performing ballerina. She was ridiculously fucked up just prior to giving her best performance (AND bleeding to death). There was no reason for her to have been able to keep an appointment, she was so fucked up.

    II totally agree with what Sub says about the crazy weirdness of the ballet world, but a quick tour around the internet turns up a lot of articles in psyche e-zines about what a perfect portrayal of schizophrenia it was. High-performing and hallucinating, riiiiiiiiiight. Quite a few mental health professionals appear to have felt very flattered by it. The only way to be romantic about delusions and hallucinations is not to know what they’re like.

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