In screenplays “Black Swan” by Daren Aronofsky (2010) and “Piano teacher” by Michael Haneke (2001)
#1 Almost five years ago I wrote review of the novel “Piano teacher” by Elfriede Jelinek, focusing on the autobiographical elements and the dominant position of Erika’s mother in the same novel. A few years before, in 2001 the Austrian director Michael Haneke had made a screen adaption of Jelinek’s text, which, in the meantime raised most of the same controversies as the novel did.
Nine years later, Daren Aronofsky in New York settled a new story, which, at first sight unites two new themes: the theory of “the black swan” of Nasim Nicolas Taleb and that of the Doppelgänger1F, the folklore belief of a person’s double from a psychological point of view.
These basic moments of “The Black Swan” screenplay provide good topic for additional research, but on this occasion I would like to focus on the subject on which I wrote about the “Piano teacher” and which inevitably appears when watching “The Black Swan”, to make a parallel review of the main characters in the both films and their psycho-physical connection with the mother.
The story in both films starts in the home. The home provides the perfect circumstances for creating a pure emotional relationship between mother and daughter. In both cases, the father is missing to introduce a “normal” family relationship. Hence the daughters fail to reach the desire shift from mother to father, initiated by Oedipus complex according to Freud, which further makes her not capable to develop a natural relationship with a male partner. The mother-daughter relationship surpasses the common limitations, becoming ever more powerful because both mother and daughter are trying to compensate the absence of the father with the unusual closeness between them.
On one hand, the daughter is the centre around which the entire mother’s wishes and ambitions are gravitating and she often becomes a substitute for the missing partner. These very close relations on the other hand, cause abnormalities in the psychophysical development of the daughter, characteristically in facing and accepting their own sexuality. The boundaries of intimacy are removed by completely erasing the private space in the house.
#2 In the beginning, Erika in “Piano teacher” and Nina in “The Black Swan” are tracing their own sensual nature, stifled or immature by their own weakness to free themselves of the dominant mother. Both girls are top artists with prominent careers, absolutely supported by their mothers. The mothers are following all their steps, they glorify their daughters’ achievements and suffer with their defeats.
This intense aspiration of the mothers to achieve the best for their daughter originates in the primary, basic desire of the young mother. Both mothers had the same destiny, to abort their careers at young age because of the unexpected pregnancy, and now they are projecting their ambitions through the daughters. Thus, from a very young age Erika is undoubtedly set to become a famous piano player and Nina to become ballet dancer. The girls are perfectly raised to live in quarantine and the only focus is their professional success. They are still not aware of the world and people around them; the only encounter with the world outside is on their way to the conservatorium and back.
The mothers in the both stories control their daughters like puppets, steering their lives and resolutely using the daughters to fulfill their own old desires. That is why in both cases the mother acts so possessively and is upset whenever her daughter is late.
In both families, sexual differentiation has been a taboo for many years. This makes the girls completely unaware and insensitive of any physical drive and desire. In such cases Freud thinks that overcoming parental authority is crucial for the further development of one’s adult personality.
#3 However, over time the strength of the mother-daughter bond inevitably gets weaker while the disruptive forces become stronger. If Erika spends most of the time outside of home, exploring and becoming aware of the secrets of her body, which were mysteries for her, Nina driven by desire to get the role of the black swan, follows the director’s instructions in order to release her own passion and sensuality.
The moments of rupture of the years-long relationship with the mother are traumatic and painful but at the same time inevitable. Despite the dominance of the mothers, the missing father in the girls’ lives surfaces anyway, preventing them from beginning the sexual relation with male partner.
The doubling personality phenomenon also exists in both stories. Erika and Nina suffer from need to find the other person inside. Erika is trying to change herself by walking through Vienna’s streets, while Nina becomes insane, hallucinating how her double runs after her all the time. This constant fight between two personalities completely exhausts them.
#4 Finally, the self-hurting actually refers to the killing of the one “I” in order for the second one to rise up. Therefore, the old Erika symbolically dies, and so does the old Nina in the moment when she played the absolutely perfectly the role of black swan in the Swan Lake. The self-hurting is not just an accident; it is the only way out to the exit of this endless labyrinth of exploring, hallucinations, escapes and revenges.
The self-hurting is the symbol of the rebirth. By hurting themselves, Nina and Erika feel the pain but also feel the passion of their existence, enabling them finally to disrupt the relation with their mothers.
Both screenplays embody the revision of the female sexuality; look back to its origins and to the complexity of the process of finding and accepting the female sexual identity.
1. Germ. Tangible double of a living person in the literature, mythology, folklore representing the second “I”.