Arts & Culture

Natalie Portman In Black Swan And Dangerous Perfection

Seeing Natalie Portman’s body in this distressing state shined a bright and particularly poignant light on the sad reality of weight in ballet. Read More

By / December 8, 2010

So about Black Swan: it was definitely no Bring It On or Clueless. When I posted on Twitter that I was going to see the film, a couple of tweeps asked me to write my thoughts on it. So, if you’re coming for your usual chicken Caesar from Chop’t at FFJD headquarters and want to stamp your frequent buyer card, this might not be it. This is also not a traditional review.

But it’s very important, nonetheless. And I am basically the female version of A.O. Scott. Sometimes we need we need to put on our smart girl, critical film yarmulke.

I won’t spoil the movie for anyone, but I will say that this was by far one of the darkest, scariest, and most grotesque movies I’ve ever seen. But for me, and for a lot of other women, what took center stage wasn’t the bouts of crazy. It was Natalie Portman’s body.

Jezebel wrote a piece criticizing the praise of Natalie Portman for excessive “discipline” for the role. Basically, argued Jezebel, Portman lost 20 pounds she didn’t have to lose, ate nothing, and trained for eight hours a day. AKA, she had an eating disorder. Call it what you want, “dedication to a role,” but let’s call a spade a spade: Portman’s body in the movie is nothing short of horrific.

Presumably, that was the point- to show the pain of Nina, a crazed, neurotic, and psychologically disturbed woman, via her body. Furthermore, I presume that beyond allowing her to physically manifest Nina’s inner turmoil, losing so much weight also allowed Portman to connect with the character on a deeper and more truthful emotional level. Psychoses aside, Portman’s rail thin physique was also crucial to painting a realistic picture of the ballet world.

But this really hit home for Portman devotees, about 90% of whom are Jewish. Natalie Portman is the girl of every Jewish boy and girl’s dreams. I myself have fallen victim to her beauty, her brains, and her talent. When I met her, I told her that I thought that she was an amazing example for young Jewish women. She thought I was a nut, but I guess I got my point out there.

Seeing Portman’s body in this distressing state shined a bright and particularly poignant light on the sad reality of weight in ballet. Ballerinas are all about “pretty,” pink, tutus, femininity. The dream of six year old girls. However, as we see in Black Swan, ballerinas endure unbelievable pain for their bodies, especially when it comes to objective physical ideals can have devastating costs. Dancers often food (vomiting, the cake Nina refuses to eat, being praised during measurements for losing weight).

This film coincides interestingly with a reviewer who called the Sugar Plum Fairy in the New York City Ballet’s body resembled someone who had “one sugar plum too many.”

Other than exposing the depressing truth that ballet – an American cultural institution – encourages women to attain a deathly level of skinny, the movie was spectacular. So, go see it and tell me what you think.

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