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Darren Aronofsky continues to explore themes common to professional wrestling in his latest film Black Swan

Natalie Portman's character in Black Swan is driven by an obsessive desire to achieve the perfect performance.  Ring any professional wrestling bells?  (Wikimedia Commons)
Natalie Portman's character in Black Swan is driven by an obsessive desire to achieve the perfect performance. Ring any professional wrestling bells? (Wikimedia Commons)

The wrestling media, who gave plenty of coverage and rave reviews to Darren Aronofsky's previous movie masterpiece The Wrestler, has completely ignored his latest film, the arguably even better psychological thriller Black Swan that was recently nominated for the 2011 Academy Award for Best Picture.  This is not a surprising decision given that his latest film is about ballet not professional wrestling, until you realise that Aronofsky sees Black Swan as a companion piece to The Wrestler:

I've always considered the two films companion pieces.  They are really connected and people will see the connections.  It's funny, because wrestling some consider the lowest art - if they would even call it art - and ballet some people consider the highest art.  But what was amazing to me was how similar the performers in both of these worlds are.  They both make incredible use of their bodies to express themselves.  They're both performers.  At one point, way before I made "The Wrestler," I was actually developing a project that was about a love affair between a ballet dancer and a wrestler, and then it kind of split off into two movies.  So I guess my dream is that some art theater will play the films as a double feature some day.

Just like professional wrestling, Aronofsky also found ballet to be a very secretive society, mistrustful of outsiders:

Ballet is a very insular world.  There's a lot of privacy, and it's hard to get in.  Normally when you say, "I want to make a movie about your world," the doors open up and you get tremendous access.  The ballet world could give two sh--s about anyone making a film about their world.  For people that do ballet, ballet is their universe and they're not impressed by movies.

Before discussing some of the other themes common to professional wrestling that Aronofsky explored in Black Swan, I'll let those of you who haven't watched the film yet to watch the trailer, which should give you a good feel for the movie, as it packs a powerful and thought provoking punch:


So what are these professional wrestling themes that struck a chord with me when watching the movie last Friday, without trying to give too much away:

  • Babyface / heel dynamic.  I don't think this needs much explaining, but the pure and innocent White Swan is clearly the heroine in Swan Lake and the Black Swan is clearly the villainess in a simple but tragic tale of good vs. evil.  Not much different than what you would see in a typical old school pro wrestling match.
  • Living the gimmick.  Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), the extremely dedicated, virginal, young ballet dancer was born to play the role of the White Swan.  However, ballet director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) is sceptical that she can pull off the polar opposite Black Swan role and thus encourages her, along with her eventual understudy Lily (Mila Kunis), to get to grips with her ahem inner heel, sorry I mean, the passionate and sensual side of her personality.  In order to truly nail the Black Swan character, Nina has to become that character, and thus the lines between fiction and reality become blurred.
  • Ageing star passed aside for new blood.  Winona Ryder plays Beth MacIntyre, the existing lead ballerina and Swan Queen turfed out by Leroy in favour of the younger Sayers with no prior warning.  Like many former World wrestling champions, she doesn't take this demotion well at all.
  • Fierce competitive jealousy for the top spot leads to paranoia.  Just as in pro wrestling, the daggers were out for top star MacIntyre from the rest of the dance troupe with snide, catty remarks aplenty.  Once Sayers gets that spot, the heat transfers to her and she becomes paranoid that everyone is out to get her, but how much of that paranoia is truly justified?
  • Obsession for perfection and the physical and mental toll that takes.  Nina Sayers is driven by an obsessive desire to achieve the perfect performance, causing her to overtrain and put way too much pressure on herself, leading early on to the nervous tic of occasionally scratching herself at inopportune moments until eventually her whole body, mind and spirit disintegrates before our very eyes.  Does that ring any bells?
  • That's not to mention likely more coincidental shared themes of "control freak" directors / promoters, overbearing parents who push their children into the art form that they were once stars in and even lesbianism.