Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Hershey’

When I went to see the movie Black Swan, I thought it was going to be a thriller set on a ballet stage. I never expected to relate so deeply to the main character, Nina (played by Natalie Portman), especially since I have absolutely no experience (or even interest) in ballet. I also did not expect to be completely freaked out by her mother (played by Barbara Hershey). The movie blindsided me and disturbed me on a very deep emotional level. I shared my reasons why here: Black Swan: Movie about Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse.

I felt physically ill watching Nina because I saw so much of myself in her before I entered into therapy. Like Nina, I was a perfectionist. Great wasn’t good enough – I needed to be perfect in everything I tried. For me, it was being the perfect student, daughter, wife, and mother. I had to be “perfect” to be safe.

My “art” was writing instead of ballet. Earning a 94 in a college-level English class in 10th grade did not make me proud: I believed that my writing was not good enough because it was not perfect. I knew I had the mechanics down, but I believed that I had nothing to write about. I was missing my own “Black Swan” – I was completely disconnected from my passionate side. I was shocked in adulthood when my 10th grade teacher told me that I was one of the best writers she ever had as a student.

I used to appear just as frigid as Nina did in the movie. I was religious and spun it to be a positive – I was “saving myself” for my husband, so it was okay for me to be frigid. In this light, my frigidity was elevated instead of looked down upon.

I also felt the need to please my mother at all costs, as Nina did in the movie, and yet I felt an underlying hatred toward her, just as Nina appears to have. Whenever I said no to my mother (such as when Nina said no to the cake), the “no” had no force behind it, and my mother knew exactly which buttons to push to make me say “yes.” Like Nina, I did not believe I had a choice – I had to do whatever my mother said.

Like Nina, I was caught in my childhood. I still slept with my favorite stuffed animal into adulthood because it helped me feel safe. I wore bows in my hair into my thirties. (Heck, to this day, my almost-40-year-old sister still wears pigtails sometimes!), and I bought sweaters with big teddy bears on them in my twenties and thirties.

I also came off as one-dimensional as the “White Swan” Nina did in the movie. People used to tease me for being this way. Nina passes it off as making sacrifices for her art, but really there isn’t much depth there … at least on the surface. Like Nina, I had a lot brewing beneath the surface and could shock you with surprising strength, such as when she bit Thomas (played by Vincent Cassell).

When I finally tapped into my own “Black Swan” (my repressed emotions from the child abuse), I felt like I was “losing it” like Nina in the movie, although I never fully lost touch with reality as she seems to. I questioned what was real and what was not. I doubted my flashbacks on a daily basis and wondered if I was just “crazy.” Nothing made sense.

Just like with the movie “Black Swan,” my life makes no sense until you view it against the backdrop of mother-daughter sexual abuse. Then, all of the pieces fit. I hated the “White Swan” Nina just as I hated myself before therapy. I was frightened of the “Black Swan” Nina just as I was frightened by the release of my repressed emotions. From this side of therapy, I can see the beauty in both and appreciate that both are part of one whole person.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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My sister and I saw the movie Black Swan together over the holidays. As two survivors of mother-daughter sexual abuse, the underlying theme driving the story was glaringly obvious, but I suspect that the movie is much more of a puzzle for those who have not suffered from childhood trauma. I don’t see much yet over the Internet about the mother-daughter sexual abuse in Black Swan, so I wonder how many people are swept away by the truths in the movie without making sense of the logic.

The basic storyline of the movie Black Swan is about a talented but repressed ballet dancer named Nina (played by Natalie Portman) trying to access the passionate part of herself at the expense of her sanity. Nina is cast in the lead of the ballet Swan Lake despite the reservations of the director Thomas (played by Vincent Cassell). Thomas admits that Nina is a slam dunk for the White Swan part of the role, which is virginal, but he has concerns about the repressed Nina tapping into her passionate side to perform the Black Swan. (The same ballerina must perform in both roles.) The Black Swan is supposed to be passionate and seductive, which are two words that don’t come to mind when you see Nina.

The movie is completely from Nina’s point of view. She is a bit “off” at the beginning, but her efforts to access her inner passion are like a runaway freight train into madness. The audience has a hard time knowing what is real and what is in her head because Nina herself has no idea. The movie is like only being provided with half of the jigsaw puzzle pieces with no picture to reference. The movie provides you with just enough of the puzzle to come close to seeing what is really going on, but you have to provide the missing piece yourself for the picture to come into focus. I suspect that most people who go to see this movie won’t have that missing puzzle piece and will leave the movie feeling Nina’s emotional disturbance without the “aha” moment of the logic that ties it all together … and I suspect that is was the director was going for.

To my sister and me (both survivors of mother-daughter sexual abuse), the missing piece seemed pretty obvious. I will build my case below, but don’t read further if you plan to see the movie and don’t want any spoilers.

*** spoiler alert ***

Anyone can tell that there is something “off” in Nina’s relationship with her mother (played by Barbara Hershey). Nina is supposed to be in her 20’s, but she acts like a little girl in her mother’s presence, using words like “mommy” and “yummy.” Nina’s bedroom looks like a little girl’s room with lots of stuffed animals. Nina’s mother undresses her and treats her like a little girl. Her mother also chastises Nina for scratching herself (similar to cutting).

When Nina masturbates as “homework” to try to access her inner passion, she sees her mother asleep in her bedroom. This was a metaphor for her mother being connected to her sexuality, and Nina’s attempts to awaken her passion would also awaken her mother.

Fellow ballerina Lily (played by Mila Kunis) tries to befriend Nina, which connects Lily to Nina’s mother in Nina’s head. Nina perceives any effort to invest in her as sexual (as shown by Nina’s perception of sexual advances by both Thomas and Lily), and Nina is only able to climax (and, thereby, access her passion) by believing that Lily has seduced her in her little girl bedroom (which never really happened). Seduction must be followed by betrayal in Nina’s head, which causes Nina to view Lily as a rival trying to take away her role in the ballet. Nina can only become the Black Swan (again, in her own head) by killing Lily, which by extension is killing her mother. Only then can she be the Black Swan.

Just in case the audience needs confirmation that the mother was the cause of Nina’s issues, the mother is the focal point in the audience when Nina takes her suicidal plunge as the White Swan at the end of the ballet. Nina’s actions and reactions (in her head) are toward others, but her mother is the central focus of her mental deterioration.

Have any of you seen the movie Black Swan? What did you think? Do you agree with my interpretation? I think the movie makes so much sense when seen through the lens of mother-daughter sexual abuse.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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