Tag Archives: Oscars

Oz: Mythic Power in the Power of Mythic Deception

Ok, my not so amazing prediction: “Oz, the Great and Powerful,” will not be nominated for any academy awards next year.  The new Oz comes out just over 11 and under 12 months after The Hunger Games (premiered March 23 2012) which is its ideological opposite: Hunger Games is a movie of the people against the government crowds are shown, but closeups of faces in the crowd are not cartoon snapshots of stereotypes—in the new Oz, all the common people are cartoon snapshots). 

Oz is a movie which not only glorifies but presumes that monarchical government and autocracy, a government of “Archons” is both natural and essential.  In Oz: the Great and Powerful, we see only the cartoonish choice between good dictators/kings and bad dictators/kings (reminiscent of the 1939 Glinda’s question to Dorothy: “are you a good witch or a bad witch?”)

“Oz, the Great and Powerful,” may neither be certainly a great or powerful cinematic event, but it is not a bad movie.  It is more than worth seeing and thinking about.  As a statement of political power mythology, it is closest (but superior both as a movie and as a dramatic contribution to mythic evolution) to “Batman, Dark Knight Rises”.   

As a Disney Production and product of the Magic Kingdom, Oz finds pro-monarchist, elitist ideological common ground with The Lion King (June 15, 1994).  But whereas world of Simba and Mufassa was elegantly pure Dumézilian structuralist mythology in support of the absolute monarchy of the lions, Oz merely celebrates Bush-Cheney-Obama low-brow dictatorship by deceit.  

Fair to say I enjoyed Oz: the Great and Powerful more than I thought I would given the almost universally disappointed/disappointing reviews.  It is true that the three witches are pretty much flat, two dimensional, and on the dull side even if they are more conventionally attractive than even Glinda was in the 1939 Classic and each is more beautiful possessing more sex appeal than Elphaba in “Wicked.”  But Elphaba is a MUCH more interesting character, developed with oh so much more depth and dimensions.

“Wicked” has ten to a hundred times more lasting mythological power as a post-modern statement of relativism than anything in “Oz, the Great and Powerful.”   But on the other hand, James Franco’s Oz is more realistic as a portrayal of conservative, monarchical values than Batman or Bruce Wayne was in the last installment of the Dark Knight Trilogy.  Oscar Diggs is not exactly Scar from the Lion King either.  He is really closest to any of the past four U.S. Presidents Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama.  His personality comes nowhere close to as engaging as Ronald Reagan or as articulate and humble as Carter.

There are really only three ways to portray political power in a story:  (1) as natural and necessary—so that the struggle is between good and bad “rulers”, (2) unnatural and not only unnecessary but oppressive and therefore evil—so that the struggle is between the people and the power structure, and (3) natural or at least “a given” —“always with us” (kind of like “the poor”) but essentially trivial and irrelevant.

Movies of the third type used to be fairly common in the American cinematic repertoire, but they have all but vanished in modern times.  The third type of movie was the “heroes ride off into the sunset” variety of “Western” or “rugged individualist” myth embodied and exemplified seriously as in (1) Casablanca, (2) High Noon, and (3)  The African Queen or comically as in (4) Cat Ballou.  

Recent years have seen Hunger Games and Serenity in the “Government is the Enemy” category pitted against Batman: Dark Knight and now Oz: the Great and Powerful.  Oz and Batman presume the paradoxical necessity of autocratic rule in society, with “Good” Autocrats guaranteeing “Freedom & Justice” while “Bad” Autocrats are just like the Good Autocrats only “Bad.”   Television series such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,”, “Angel”, and “Dexter” tend to vacillate between “Government as the Enemy” and “Government is always there but Irrelevant.”  

In “Oz: the Great and Powerful”, we see a very specific “real world” dramatic retelling of the story of the disembodied leader becoming more powerful after death, as an Icon and a Myth, than he ever could have been as an earthly individual.  The Character of the Wizard Oscar Diggs is not even “intriguingly” Banal and Ordinary.  He is really kind of uninspiringly banal and ordinary—much like the real life Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.   Like George W. Bush, Diggs is a master of illusion and deceit, and that is his primary qualification as a leader.  Like Clinton, Oscar Diggs’ “Oz” is attractive to the ladies and that makes the movie at least somewhat pleasant to watch.  But as with last year’s somewhat deadly dud “Dark Shadows” with Johnny Depp, stories involving beautiful but jealous witches are really so awfully unoriginal as to be boring—and I’ve not only watched too many I’ve lived the story in real life just several too many times….ahem, but I digress…

Unlike the stories of both Dorothy Gale (or her as yet cinematically almost unknown friend and colleague in adventure in most of L. Frank Baum’s later stories, “Ozma”) and Elphaba, there is hardly a hint of feminism or “girl power” in any of the three witches.  (No “Buffy” or “Willow” or even “Anya” on the scenes of this Oz).   Even Glinda (Michelle Williams) is at best a kind of exquisitely delicate, weak, very pretty and attractive but only marginally talented “second rate” witch outshown and outperformed by Oz’ mechanical illusions which ultimately succeed in vanquishing and exiling the evil sisters to the East and West of the Emerald City.  [It made sense to see Oz on St. Patrick’s Day weekend since Oz, like Ireland and Ancient Maya Yucatán, is a magic land divided into four color-coded cardinal direction (NSEW) quarters of the world with Green at the Center—the Emerald City = the Yaxché at the Center of the Maya universe and Tara at the cosmic and ritual center of the Emerald Isle itself].  

[The beautiful witch who turns green and ugly (the future W.W. West, Mila Kunis) reminds me ever so much of my own former wife Elena K….. beautiful and ambitious in the beginning, looked really good in red, but ultimately deadly and green   for all the wrong reasons (Elphaba was green for “good” reasons).]

What are interesting from the standpoint of mythic deconstruction in “Oz, the Great and Powerful” are Oz’ assertions that he is more powerful as a disembodied image than as a man, that illusion is more powerful than reality.  This IS a valid post-modern deconstruction of the American Presidency, and of Institutional “Corporate” government and economy in general.

Does the generalization apply to the life of Julius Caesar, or merely to the post-mortem TITLE of Caesar, which endured for a thousand years as the Supreme Emblem of “Imperial” Authority in the non-Latin monarchs (Kaisers & Tsars) of Germany, Austria, and Russia?  

A certain kind of post-modern deconstructionalist will tell you that Jesus Christ and Julius Caesar both planned their deaths for the purpose of Apotheosis and Institutionalization of Power.  This is exactly what Oscar Diggs does in “Oz: the Great and Powerful.”  

Power by deception and illusion is the political science of Machiavelli’s Il Principe and Cardinal Richelieu’s dictum “to dissemble is to rule” as well as the apparent embodiment of the theory underlying American foreign policy probably since the sinking of the Battleship Maine. Power by deception and illusion is a very anti-democratic theory of the origin and nature of power, totally opposed to the Katniss Everdeen or Buffy Summers schools of “Divine Kingship through Combat and Sacrifice.”  Katniss and Buffy were both pitted against dictatorships built on bloody lies and concealment of the truth, as were the “Wild West” type heroes on the Crew of “Serenity” (paired with Buffy and Angel, also by Joss Whedon).  As I have been writing for more than ten years, Buffy Summers’ death in Season Five of her series was a classic “Golden Bough” moment, though after Buffy’s resurrection in Season Six she was not quite “divine” after all.  Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark in Hunger Games together played the game of the Rex Nemorensis in Diana’s Wood at Aricia very well as a team (a wonderful team unprecedented in history or myth).

Essentially, the lesson we should learn from “Oz: the Great and Powerful” is that all institutional (aka “Corporate” = permanent but impersonal, perpetual) government originates in and works best when founded on lies. In this political theory, lies and falsehood and illusion are sources of strength, and the secrets must be kept by those in the “inner circle” of government, even by China Dolls….(a reference to the “Dainty China Doll” in L. Frank Baum’s original book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” which did not make it into the 1939 Judy Garland “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” musical movie).

Batman: Dark Knight surely reflects the same ideology, but never states it quite so bluntly.   So Oz now joins with certain deconstructionist interpretations of the lives of Julius Caesar, Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy…. in articulation the rule by deception explanation of the origin and nature of political power.  I can only pray for the ultimate triumph of the poor man’s “Divine Kingship” model of weak government, an essentially anarchical theory of government as a model of or metaphor for nature red in tooth and claw…. wherein the King (or Queen) is normally only a symbol of nature rather than an actual wielder of power.  

In which connexion, long live Buffy Summer & Katniss Everdeen.

If Zero Dark Thirty Gets An Academy Award—Terrorists Might Want to Consider Bombing the Academy Next…..

Five Oscar Nominations!?!?!?!   They don’t even have a category for cardboard actors speaking cartoonish lampoon stereotyped lines.  

OK, I went to see Zero Dark Thirty at Canal Place last night.  I had not expected to be impressed but I had not expected such a completely mangy dog of a movie could have gotten such glowing reviews.  Oh well, I should have remembered—it’s hard to tell a lie that is so incoherent you almost laugh while telling it with a straight face, much less with an extremely long two hour movie.  NO character development, NO realistic dialog, NO insight, nothing.  I felt I had to give the movie a chance, but basically…..if the American people really believe this story, so devoid of factual plausibility and with NO new details of any kind (and a lot of the same details, such as how they identified Osama bin Laden’s body, completely omitted), well…..the American people deserve the government they’ve got I guess.  “Nobody EVER went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public” as P.T. Barnum is alleged to have said….

I would not rate Zero Dark Thirty a C-.  It was all lies and propaganda designed to bolster the government’s completely unbelievable story.  Reviews in the New Yorker and New York Times describe it as tense and suspenseful—they either saw a different movie or they were playing propagandistic caricature roles themselves—I suspect the latter.  EVERYTHING I would have written about Zero Dark Thirty (aside from my criticisms of the acting, scriptwriting, continuity, total lack of plot integration–the superficially similar Ben Afleck movie—Argo—was a real masterpiece in all those departments) has to do with my complete disbelief of the government lies.  So I will refer my readers simply to a different source: “Zero Dark Thirty”: The deeper, darker truths | Veterans Today.  I have often referred to my extremely educational but all too brief association and involvement with the 9-11 investigative and study group that met near my flat on Denman near Stanley Park in the west end of Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2007, but they have without any doubt one of the finest organizations anywhere, a far larger attendance, for whatever reason, than you can get in Los Angeles on the same topics—and they recently produced a true masterpiece which should be required reading in every American High School, College, and Sunday School: 911 Vancouver Hearings.

Of course the media has been full of a totally off-target debate and discussion concerning this effectively content-free movie.  The “public controversy” of Zero Dark Thirty is itself a just another major distraction: “Was torture effective in obtaining information leading to Bin Laden’s Death?”  This issue is now being manically revisited everywhere from the floor of the United States Senate to horribly dull pre-Oscar parties all over Southern California.  But this debate is intended to draw attention away from the complete lack of plot continuity or explanatory power in the government story or the movie.  The plot is RIDICULOUS and the images of torture are so sanitized as to shock absolutely nobody.  I have personally witnessed worse treatment of prisoners in Williamson County, Texas, and in fact all over California, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma than was shown on the screen in Zero Dark Thirty.  None of the prisoners in the movie were bleeding or bruised even, none were drugged, none appeared to have been genuinely broken—but these things DO happen in the jails and detention centers of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave…..EVERY DAY.

Still, I don’t know—was torture ever effective in revealing the truth?  Did torture help fanatically dogged CIA agents to find and corner Osama bin Laden (finally!) in May of 2011 so that Obama could take credit and thereby advance the confusing similarity between his two names (Hussein Obama) and the Bush administration’s intentionally selected “great enemies” for the first decade of the 21st century: Saddam Hussein and Osama.  (I was always fond of the bumper stickers and campaign slogans: Hail to the de facto 44th President: “Obama’s been Lyin'”).

Perhaps we should convene a seance and ask the spirit of my dear old Harvard condiscipula, the late great Benazir (“B.B.” or “Pinkie” Bhutto…whom I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know even though she was technically several years ahead of me in school and was returning from Oxford when I knew her.  The history was that we met when she effectively saved my pet coatimundi’s life and even played with us around Harvard Yard and North Yard and Law Yard after “Theresa” bit “Pinkie’s” bodyguard and the Pakistani ambassador in a single episode on Everett Street where I used to live….international incident avoided by fairly massive girl-power, I guess you’d say…).  

As a result, I came to believe that Benazir Bhutto was one of the foremost leaders of the modern Islamic world, and I think it’s very significant that she (either inadvertently or purposely) on November 2, 2007, told David Frost (or someone very much like him) that Bin Laden had died in December 2001, and been buried just after Christmas that year…..  But Pinkie was not the only one who believed that Osama was dead, as a matter of fact, only the Bush-Cheney propaganda machine kept him alive (for Obama’s ultimate benefit).  Here is the reality of the situation: There are a few reports from around the world that I found that indicated that Osama bin-Laden had indeed died when Pinkie Bhutto said he died.  Omar Sheikh has been in Pakistani police custody since February 2002 for the murder of Daniel Pearl.

However, some other reports, which seem to make some sense, indicated that Osama bin-Laden died in December 2001. An Egyptian newspaper called al-Wafd published the following article (Volume 15 No 4633) on December 26th, 2001:

A prominent official in the Afghan Taleban movement announced yesterday the death of Osama bin Laden, the chief of al-Qa’da organization, stating that binLaden suffered serious complications in the lungs and died a natural and quiet death. The official, who asked to remain anonymous, stated to The Observer of Pakistan that he had himself attended the funeral of bin Laden and saw his face prior to burial in Tora Bora 10 days ago. He mentioned that 30 of al-Qa’da fighters attended the burial as well as members of his family and some friends from the Taleban. In the farewell ceremony to his final rest guns were fired in the air. The official stated that it is difficult to pinpoint the burial location of bin Laden because according to the Wahhabi tradition no mark is left by the grave. He stressed that it is unlikely that the American forces would ever uncover any traces of bin Laden.

If the funeral took place 10 days before this article was published in al-Wafd and The Observer of Pakistan, this would put the death of Osama bin-Laden around the 16th or 17th of December 2001. Israeli intelligence officials also told reporters in October 2002 that they and United States officials believe that Osama bin-Laden had been killed in December 2001.

If you look at a timeline of events involving Osama bin-Laden, ignoring the questionable videotapes, there is a noticeable shift in the type of communication Osama bin-Laden has with the world and the rhetoric used by Bush Administration and Pakistani officials in regards to the threat Osama bin-Laden poses starting in the middle of December 2001. Some highlights:

September 15, 2001 – 
President Bush said of bin-Laden, “If he thinks he can hide and run from the United States and our allies, he will be sorely mistaken.”

September 17, 2001 – President Bush proclaimed loudly and vigorously (and as about as articulately as he ever got), “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’”

November 7, 2001 – Pakistani reporter Hamid Mir interviewed Osama bin-Laden in person.

November 16, 2001 – Battle of Tora Bora began.

November 25, 2001 – Osama bin-Laden gave his last known public speech to his followers in Milawa, Afghanistan, a village located on the route from Tora Bora to the Pakistani border.

November 28, 2001 – Osama bin-Laden reportedly escaped from Tora Bora.

December 15, 2001 – Osama bin-Laden’s (authenticated) voice was reportedly intercepted for the last time communicating with his fighters in Tora Bora via his shortwave radio.

December 17, 2001 – US Intelligence and Pentagon officials admitted that they had “lost Osama bin-Laden.”

December 17, 2001 – United States declared victory at Tora Bora

December 26, 2001 – An article about Osama bin-Laden’s funeral was published in Pakistan and Egypt. The funeral allegedly had taken place about 10 days earlier. The article was also discussed by Fox News.

December 28, 2001 – President Bush said (for the first time), “Our objective is more than bin-Laden”

January 18, 2002 – Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf told CNN that he believes Osama bin-Laden to be dead

January 27, 2002 – Vice President Dick Cheney said that Osama bin-Laden “isn’t that big of a threat. Bin Laden connected to this worldwide organization of terror is a threat.”

January 27, 2002 – White House Chief of Staff Andy Card told CNN, “”I do not know for a fact that he’s alive. I happen to believe he’s probably alive… Our overall objective is to defeat terrorism, wherever it is around the world. And so, our objective is not to get Osama bin Laden.”

January 29, 2002 – President Bush delivered his first State of the Union address since 9/11. While he labels Iraq, Iran, and North Korea the “axis of evil”, he fails to mention Osama bin-Laden at all.

March 13, 2002 – President Bush said, “Deep in my heart I know the man is on the run, if he’s alive at all… He’s a person who’s now been marginalized.… I just don’t spend that much time on him.… I truly am not that concerned about him.”

April 4, 2002 – Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers said, “The goal has never been to get bin-Laden”

October 14, 2002 – President Bush said, “I don’t know whether bin-Laden is alive or dead”

October 16, 2002 – Middle East Newsline reported that Israeli Intelligence officials confirmed that Israel and the United States both believed Osama bin-Laden was killed in mid-December 2001 during the Tora Bora bombing campaign.

This timeline, with Osama bin-Laden’s death allegedly occurring in the middle of December 2001, makes it possible that Omar Sheikh could have committed the murder. From October 2001 through January 19, 2002, Omar Sheikh was living openly in his home in Lahore, Pakistan. His positions as leader of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (a Taliban and Osama bin-Laden partner) and ISI agent (the source of funds for Harkat-ul-Mujahideen) would also have given him means for access to Osama bin-Laden.

While it was disturbing that Benazir Bhutto may have revealed that our government has been (and continues to be) lying to us about Osama The Big Bad Wolf, his life, death, now only awaiting his resurrection, the revelation that his supposed killer was Omar Sheikh raises even more questions than the obvious ‘Who the hell was making and releasing all those Osama bin-Laden videos and for what purpose?’.

Here are some interesting facts:

  • Daniel Pearl was investigating, among other things, connections between the Pakistani ISI and terrorist groups when he was kidnapped and killed.
  • On February 5, 2002, before Daniel Pearl’s body was found, Omar Sheikh turned himself in to ISI officials. ISI kept Omar Sheikh (one of their agents) in custody for a week before turning him over to Pakistani police. What happened during that week is unknown as Omar Sheikh wouldn’t discuss the details fearing his family will be killed.
  • The trial of Omar Sheikh in Pakistan, the result of which was a death sentence, was held entirely in secret and with questionable evidence. According to The Guardian, both US officials and Marianne Pearl (Daniel Pearl’s wife) have concluded that Omar Sheikh is not guilty.
  • Before Omar Sheikh’s trial had concluded, Pervez Musharraf publicly declared that he wanted the trial to result in a death sentence, leading many to believe he effectively ordered the courts to render that verdict.
  • Condoleeza Rice and Alberto Gonzales told Marianne Pearl (Daniel Pearl’s wife) that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad confessed to the murder of Daniel Pearl. Daniel Pearl’s family and former CIA investigators doubt that the confession, received only after Mohammad was tortured, is true.
  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammad is the so-called “9/11 mastermind” whose identity was supposedly provided by the interrogations of Abu Zubayda and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The tapes of these interrogations were the ones famously destroyed by the CIA in 2005.
  • On October 7, 2001 General Mahmood Ahmad was replaced as the head of the ISI at the request of the United States due to numerous reports that he had ordered Omar Sheikh to transfer $100,000 to Mohammad Atta before 9/11.
  • ISI director General Mahmood Ahmad was in the United States during 9/11. In the days preceding the attacks, he met with CIA director George Tenet and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Mark Grossman. During the attacks, we was meeting with Senator Bob Graham and Representative Porter Goss (who will take over as CIA director after George Tenet leaves). After the attacks, Graham and Goss will co-head the House-Senate investigation  into the 9/11 attacks.
  • The previous time the director of the ISI, Ziauddin Butt, came to the United States was a few days before Pervez Musharraf took over control of Pakistan in a 1999 military coup (Benazir’s Zulfikar was assassinated and his government overthrown a full two decades earlier in 1979, derailing modernization in Pakistan at exactly the same time as the Islamic Revolution in Iran did the same to the Shah’s ambitious programs of Westernization.  Coincidence????
  • General Mahmood Ahmad received his position as the director of the ISI after helping dictator Pervez Musharraf claim power.
  • Benazir Bhutto said that a “key figure in security” (ISI?) would be on the list of people who would want her dead.
  • The ISI has been in existence since the 1980’s due to the financing of the CIA and according to The Guardian “it has long been established that the ISI has acted as go-between in intelligence operations on behalf of the CIA.”

I don’t really know what to make of these facts and don’t even know if all of them are now or ever were relevant. But I do have some questions to which I for one demand (if not answers then at least) serious discussion:

  • Is it possible that Daniel Pearl had found out that Osama bin-Laden had been killed during the course of his investigation, leading him to be kidnapped one month after the alleged murder?
  • If Omar Sheikh did kill Osama bin-Laden, could that explain why he was falsely accused and convicted of the murder of Daniel Pearl? (Another movie was made to promote this fraud). To shut him up? Is he still alive, as believed, because of his ties to Pakistan’s ISI?
  • (One uncomfortable question) How much do CIA and Bush Administration officials know about the murder of Daniel Pearl? Did they have an interest in the silence of both Daniel Pearl and Omar Sheikh? Why hasn’t the Bush Administration demanded that Pervez Musharraf allow the United States to question Omar Sheikh, since he was still alive and in their custody?
  • (Some much more uncomfortable questions, damning in fact): How deep and how sinister was the alliance of the Bush government and the Musharraf government? How interconnected were (are?) the ISI and CIA and could the ISI have assisted Osama bin-Laden, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, and the Taliban without the knowledge of the CIA?
  • (But above all else:) Did the Bush CIA want Benazir Bhutto gone?  Pinkie was useless to the Bush Administration—she was not playing her role to justify interventionism and imperial expansion.  Benazir Bhutto presented the west with the totally wrong image for Pakistan (from the Bush administration’s imperial perspective)—she was so lively, so articulate in English, so completely modern, such an uncompromising advocate for the sovereignty of her homeland.
  • Why did the Bush Administration want us to think Osama bin-Laden was still alive? How did they personally benefit from this deception more than they would benefit by publicly taking credit for catching Osama bin-Laden?  I think they were saving a moment of glory for Barack Hussein Obama, their hand-picked stealth-bomb of a successor (who looked so different, he was the obvious choice to continue all the same policies…it’s called “hiding in plain sight”)

I understand how some people might think or feel that Benazir Bhutto’s statement in November 2007 was largely uncorroborated and might not be immediately believable or subject to unquestioning acceptance.  But what was her motive to lie?  I can imagine none. The lively woman I once  knew who liked to hang around the Peabody and Semitic Museums on Divinity Avenue, play with my coatimundi, hop on the train and go to New York every other weekend, and drink café au lait by the gallon in Harvard Square was by then the Prime Minister of Pakistan twice.  She was a glorious symbol of Islam in the modern world—a fearless female leader against both the reactionary Imams and the invading oil companies.  

And given her position and family heritage, she was unquestionably privy to more information than any reporter, especially reporters working for the American press. Also, it’s the word of a dead heroine of genuine, civilized, modernization and progress in the Islamic world against those of the hopelessly corrupt and discredited Bush Administration, the CIA, Pervez Musharraf’s government, and the American and British mainstream press. Who was more deserving of our trust in 2007?  Who is more deserving now?  Let’s have that seance….

The Dark Sexual Meta-Politics of the “Black Swan”

Once again availing myself of the pleasure of New Orleans’ Prytania Theatre, I saw Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” for the first time last night (opening night at the Prytania….pre-Oscar run I suppose). The line between the dreamworld and the real world is blurred—readers of this blog may have noticed that this is my favorite movie and dramatic theme and subject line, from Plato’s Cave (Republic Book VII) through Calderon de la Barca’s “La Vida es Sueno” to Lewis Carroll “through the looking-glass”, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia through the Wardrobe and the Lake between the worlds, Matrix, and Total Recall.  Black Swan follows in this tradition as a dark movie with very little light.  I confess that as of the writing of this I haven’t read any other reviews of it so the thoughts here are my own, untethered by other critical thoughts. The subtitle of this movie could be either: “After many seasons dies the swan” or “The Tragic Ritual of Divine Kingship: succession and passion, murder and sacrifice, among the heirs of Pavlova.”

Arguably my alma-mater’s most beautiful and talented alumna ever, at least of anyone whom I ever chanced to encounter at Lamont, the Fogg, Sackler, Tozzer, Peabody, or Agassiz at any time during any of my many and varied Cantabrigian years, Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, an aspiring ballerina in a City never expressly identified as New York, but where the blazes else could it be?  with a company never expressly identified as the New York City Ballet, but what other ballet troop uses Lincoln Center as its symbolic and practical home base?

Natalie’s character Nina seems to be a victim attacked and probably doomed from every angle.  The tension from the beginning seems to be: who is Lena’s evil Wizard? Her sharply ambitious mother Erica Sayers (played flawlessly by Barbara Hershey as a kind of evil twin to “Leave it to Beaver’s” mother—there are a lot of light/dark pairings in this movie—but that’s not really one of them) with her increasingly piercing eyes and comments?  The potentially and historically predatory Ballet Director Thomas Leroy with his aggressive, but apparently (possibly?) merely heuristic sexual aggression??  Or the obvious competitor, another more relaxed, laid back and highly sexual balerina Lily?

In other words, this movie invokes every major cliche of sexual politics in the modern world.  It is beautifully filmed and focused in alternating light and shadows and quite simply could not have been completed with any other actress, because I cannot think of any other young actress whom I personally (or the world) could stand to look at from every possible angle up close….  But it is impossible to get bored with Natalie Portman’s face, even when her expressions are ambiguous-to-inscrutable.  As it turns out, the incomprehensible nature of Natalie’s character Nina turns out to be no mistake, but the essence of the story.

I have long been extremely suspicious of sexual politics as an explanatory device for human failure and self-destructive tendencies.   I am most suspicious of stories of sexual harassment and sexual predation against younger females by male superiors and supervisors.  Up to a point, I think that such hierarchy is fairly natural and normal in the world.  But refreshingly, in this movie at least, the “outward and visible signs” of Director Tom Leroy’s sexually aggressive moves towards Nina are entirely instructional—as a Director, and only as a director, Tom wants Lena to put more passion into her dancing, and he feels she cannot do this unless she “feels” sexual desire more deeply herself.  Beside a couple of kisses, which seem just to end up as demonstrative professorial exercises trying to awaken something inside of Nina, nothing happens between them.  Director Tom simultaneously abjectly fails and even more abjectly succeeds, to no good end.   The line in St. Francis’ prayer “only in dying are we born to eternal life” comes to mind.

The elder “Dying Swan” Beth MacIntyre (it is insinuated without being articulated) was once Director Vincent’s lover.  But what does this mean or matter?  Nina longs to be like her.  Nina even steals Beth lipstick and other objects, but later guiltily returns them. Within the portrayal of Swan Lake, and the Ballet–she is the former star—back to Lake Nemi she is the only Priest, awaiting the new arrival of the next Rex (Regina?) Nemorensis.

Nina’s mother figure is likewise ambiguous.  Erica Sayers is domineering but kind, commanding but caring.  She claims to have sacrificed herself and her own ballet career.  She is an obsessive painter but above all she has invested her maternal and creative energies in her daughter Nina.  Erica restrains and represses Nina and does not want her to achieve the passionate release which Tom considers necessary to Nina’s apotheosis into a “Diva” of the Ballet.

Most intriguingly: Lily—Lily and Nina are a pair most reminiscent of Faith and Buffy in the Season III of Joss Whedon’s TV Series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003). Faith was Buffy’s dark, sexual, rule-breaking and authority disrespecting “instinct rather than training-based” twin slayer.   The nightclub dance seen prior to Nina’s final “seduction” could be clipped and merged, almost seamlessly, with the parallel nightclub dance scene in Season III of BtVS called “Bad Girls” where Buffy and Faith go wild (or, rather where Faith tempts and draws Buffy into the wild scene for a while, and almost into Faith’s plunge towards the Dark Side).

The context of the story of Lena Thayer is the competition for the leading role in Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” with all its magic and romantic intrigue made real in the modern City and Ballet company.   Lily, like Tom, tries to awaken lust and a sense of looseness in Nina, and her success parallels Tom, with equal ambiguity.

Ultimately, the story reveals Nina as her own black swan, her own shadow in the mirror, her own crowning achievement and tragic undoing in denouemente.

The Metapolitical message here is that yes, Freud was right that we are all screwed up in the head by our sexuality, but no, we can’t escape the consequences of our choices of our other actions.  None of us can see clearly, we see only through a glass, darkly, because we think, act, and speak only as children.  Also consistently Freudian is the message that sexual repression is the root of all evil.  What can we do but laugh and cry at the insistent repetition of these assertions throughout the world?

If there is a “moral” it must be that we all must engage in self-discovery, but that there is no necessary triumph or salvation through self-mutilation and death, even when it helps us achieve amazing goals which otherwise we could not have realized.  Our dreams reflect our dark side—our dreams shape our dark side—but without a proper control of light and shadow, we can neither see who we really are no who we ever should be, nor do what we should, nor know what we need to know without fully encountering our dark shadow selves—and this is why Freudian Psychology is eternally inferior to that of Carl Gustav Jung.