Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Darren Aronofsky's parents terribles

The only sustained negative response to Darren Aronofsky's storming Black Swan has come from ballet practitioners, taken to screenings by journalists who thought this would be a ripping wheeze. It's a trick that could be applied to most movies: get a mountain climber to review 127 Hours, council-estate drug-dealers on Trainspotting or Princes Charles, William and Harry to hold forth on The King's Speech, as if all that matters in filmmaking is its veracity.

Dancers have been particularly vexed by Natalie Portman's shining performance as the lead, Nina, in Black Swan, though they give the impression of protesting too much. One group you wouldn't want to analyse Aronofsky's oeuvre too closely is parents, and certainly not mothers, who are routinely portrayed as mad-eyed bags of unrestrained neuroses.

Barbara Hershey, as Nina's mother in Black Swan, never rose beyond the corps de ballet, we're told, instead channeling her ambition through her daughter. She's domineering, emotionally manipulative and bent on infantilising her sweet-voiced child. In Requiem for a Dream (2000), Ellen Burstyn is the unhappy mother addicted to daytime TV who becomes hooked on a weight-loss drug that first inspires horrifying hallucinations and ultimately reduces her to human jelly.

The one redemptive figure is Marisa Tomei's stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold (pictured) in The Wrestler (2008) but here, again, parenthood doesn't get an easy ride. In the eponymous central role, Mickey Rourke - skin as taut as Hershey's in Aronofsky's latest - is a failed father to daughter Stephanie, who he repeatedly lets down and also still sees as a child. Clearly on the side of Philip Larkin parents-wise, Aronofsky would be a revelation at the helm if the world is forced to endure yet another Meet the Fockers spin-off: They Fock You Up.

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