Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook) stars as an unnamed woman, although if the metaphor is true, her name might as well as be Mary. She lives in a country house seemingly deep in the country surrounded by a field bounded with trees. She at one point refers to it as paradise, so presumably she’s in Eden, a Garden of Eden. Her house is mostly made of wood, a house reportedly damaged in a fire. Yet, this woman is refurbishing it by herself, a job for a carpenter perhaps. This is not to say she’s Jesus Christ who was a carpenter, but she is perhaps his mother, the Virgin Mary. Yes, she’s married, but she repeatedly reminds how she and her husband haven’t had sex. She’s instead focused on fixing up the house. She replaced the wood panels. She plastered the walls. She installed some of the plumbing fixtures and she’s painting the place. She lives there with her husband. She obviously supports him and takes care of him, and while she’s doing all this, he’s working on his writing.
Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men and Skyfall) co-stars as her unnamed husband. He’s a writer, specifically a poet who is having trouble writing or as he calls it “creating.” If we are to continue with the religious metaphor. It gets to a point where the husband has to be a surrogate for God. This doesn’t become apparent until the last third or so of the movie after he impregnates her, thus making this the anti-Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
That 1968 horror by Roman Polanski posited the idea of a woman giving birth to the son of the Devil. Here, the woman is giving birth to the son of God. Yet, both scenarios are treated with as much terror as each other. Aronofsky basically lays out either woman should be equally scared, or at least the experience of watching both should be equally scary. Some might raise an eyebrow to the notion that the birth of God’s son, aka Jesus Christ, should be considered through a horror film, but theoretically he was a man who was persecuted and murdered. A horror film seems just as appropriate a lens to view it as anything else.
Unlike Rosemary’s Baby, the real thrust isn’t the pregnancy and the amplified fears that a woman might feel. Those fears include something happening to the baby that might cause it to be hurt or lost. For the majority of the film, Lawrence’s character isn’t pregnant, yet she still has those fears. It’s simply transposed onto the house. In effect, the house is her baby. She is constantly moving about this house with Aronofsky’s camera always close to her face and head, following her, as she keeps tending to the house, almost as if it were a child in need. Given the movie devolves into a home-invasion thriller, we feel her anxiety when strangers enter her home as we would strangers randomly picking up her baby.
Ed Harris (Apollo 13 and The Truman Show) gives a creepy performance as an orthopedic doctor who is the first, unnamed stranger to enter the house, the first home-invader as it were. Fellow Oscar-nominee Michelle Pfieffer (Hairspray and Scarface) gives a chilling performance as the doctor’s wife. If I were continuing the Biblical metaphor, I would slap the label of those two being a rather middle-age Adam and Eve, and only because later their two sons invade the house and what their two sons do seem to be a blatant interpretation of Cain and Abel with the so-called Cain being played boldly by Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Revenant).
Yet, before the insane, third act, which at times felt like the third act of Children of Men but times a hundred, the metaphor in my mind wasn’t religious. The metaphor was about celebrity or fame. When it comes to celebrities and famous people, some complain about their relationships with fans. Aronofsky’s film seems like an exaggeration of those complaints, which include exaggerations of invasion of privacy or appropriation of things, the adoration of the artist and disregard of the spouse.
That disregard and disrespect drives the tension in this movie, and strangely is effective enough to keep me on the edge of my seat and unnerved for the majority of this film. Eventually, all of that goes away in the third act, which becomes more comical and ridiculous, which was probably Aronofsky’s intention, especially since he places comedic actress, Kristen Wiig, in the middle of it all. Yet, Black Swan doesn’t get laughable as it goes along. It gets more threatening.
This movie doesn’t get more threatening. Aronofsky might think it does given the safety of a baby is put front and center. Yet, at that point, Aronofsky is in full metaphor mode, so nothing has much impact in that third act, even a brutal assault on Lawrence’s character. I felt Natalie Portman’s fate more than Lawrence’s character’s fate.
Rated R for strong disturbing content, some sexuality, nudity and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs.