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lynn crosbie: pop rocks

When Jim Carrey, in a strong comeback strike, played the Mila Kunis Black Swan on this weekend's Saturday Night Live, I thought it was a startlingly accurate impression.

Because I saw Black Swan in the front row of a packed theatre, with my neck hyperextended, and eyes and ears assailed as if seated in a nouvelle Bunuel ("We Actually Slice Your Eyes!") terror-plex.

I then fixed my thousand-yard stare on the back of the room and staggered to an empty seat where I sat whimpering and retching. Five minutes passed before the woman beside me said, "You may be in the wrong seat." Five minutes later, she said, in a more Arctic voice: "I believe this is my husband's seat."

So I moved to the very back row, feeling very much like a passenger on a Voyageur heading through cow pastures, and gave into director Darren Aronofsky's vision of a self divided.

I offer this context as a tribute to the Canadian film critic I like the best, Margaux Williamson, whose blog, Movie is My Favourite Word, always explains the way in which the movie was screened and viewed by this generous, poetic theorist.

The tenor and meaning of a film or TV show are entirely mutable, and seeing Black Swan alone made me extremely susceptible to its message about the ravages of time and isolation - themes the director explored in what he recently called the movie's companion film, The Wrestler.

Saturday Night Live correctly lampooned the recherché nature of Kunis's wildness (tattoos, ecstasy, rolling at clubs); the repetitiveness of the Laingian (and far beyond) trope wherein the white swan is precision, control and goodness, and the dark is chaos, abandon and violence.

The skit, via Carrey's great physical, comic prowess, further underlined and mocked the film's sense of sex as the only possible driving force behind true, powerful art. This notion has rampaged through every chamber of the arts: Rake your mind and you will remember crude, if not crudely persuasive, arguments that writing or painting or sculpture are analogous to, or are, sexual acts.

Think of Demi Moore, or Camille Claudel for that matter, sculpting sexual clay; of Erica Jong or Henry Miller banging out their heat; of the pop masterpiece Mistral's Daughter, in which the eponymous painter is revered for painting his lusty nude "rouquine" with his "sperm."

Think, of course, of the big stadium spandex lizards, of the lead guitarist making his guitar-girl scream; think of Madonna turning fellatio into a prayer and then a song.

Black Swan is both visually beautiful and frightening, like an updated Carrie, creepy, sacrificial mother and all.

But we all know this by now: It is one of the rare movies that everyone seems to have seen, if critiques of its narrative tend to arrest at the notion of a cage match between the ego and superego.

What is of genuine interest here, I thought as I elbow-stabbed the man beside me for sovereignty of the cupholder, is that Black Swan is not the high-art chick flick it appears to be.

The advertisements pitted Natalie Portman (the Swan Queen) and Kunis (her understudy) against each other, as though this would be All About Eve reprised with a pirouette through Single White Female.

But the tension between the two is an illusion.

The film is about perfection, the forging of the self toward this impossible ideal. "Perfection is terrible," wrote Sylvia Plath, who understood, of course. "It cannot have children."

By this, the poet means that perfection is not real, and to pursue it, as in the magnificent blueprint for The Black Swan, The Red Shoes (which I believe is a veiled recasting of the anguished relationship between dancer Vaslav Nijinsky and Ballet Russe founder Sergei Diaghilev), is to pursue one's own - flawless, static - death.

On one level, the Kunis character is a decoy or red herring. The so-called blackness, or wantonness, the prima ballerina (Portman's Nina) drives herself to discover resides also inside of her.

It is her prim lust for her instructor that manifests itself as violence; her jealousy of her predecessor, which is expressed through petty theft; her desire for her understudy, which blooms into an onanistic delusion.

It is her ceaseless vomiting and flaying of her skin; her battered, deformed feet; her face effaced by great gusts of white powder.

The blackness resides in the toilet she is always listing into: her base nature; her truly ugly and exquisite essence consistently asserts itself in blood and bile.

We are our worst enemies, the film instructs us, as is evinced by the film's necessarily tragic conclusion.

Grasping very well the ongoing dilemma of fractured female identity and its terrible resolutions, Carrey's Lily states: "Once you go black swan, you never go back ... swan."