Barbara Hershey Is Riveting in 'Black Swan' as Natalie Portman's Dark, Controlling Mother


"In fairy tales, the daughter must integrate the witch in herself, in order to overthrow the witchy mother," said Laurie Schapira, a Jungian analyst in private practice in New York who is also a filmmaker. Schapira noted that in "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy had to secure the witch's broom in order to continue her own development.

"In 'Black Swan,' Nina must free herself from the dark energy personified by her mother, which has kept Nina from developing her own feminine power that includes sexuality," said Schapira.

The movie handily allows Nina to project all these liberating sexual possibilities on to Mila Kunis's Lily, much to the dismay of Hershey's Erica.

'Black Swan': Barbara Hershey and Natalie Portman

"By keeping the daughter a child even into adulthood, the mother is able to maintain power," said Schapira.

A little girl's ballet world hardly discourages this mother-and-daughter coupling, suggests Margaret Klenck, a Jungian analyst in private practice in New York and a former actress.

"Mothers become integral to the whole process of ballet training, through scheduling and transporting the girls to daily classes," said Klenck who, as a child, studied classical ballet for seven years."A mother is almost like the daughter's servant, and the two may become enmeshed in each other's lives."

In "Black Swan," Hershey's Erica does behave supportively to Nina. But, said Klenck, envy on the part of the mother may play a huge part in the process, especially in view of the fact that Erica, who was also a budding ballerina, never made it to soloist status.

In the end, the balletic mother-and-daughter dance can explode into a tug-of-war. "Even Nina's scratching is a reversal of the soothing gesture," said Klenck. "It's a way for Nina to disfigure what the mother loves, what makes the daughter so perfect."

Perfection, it turns out in "Black Swan," is a two-edged sword, and hardly as neat a virtue as Nina once thought. And, unfortunately, Erica doesn't help things along.

"Integrating light and dark can be a complicated and dangerous endeavor," said Klenck. "The ideal of perfection is always a disaster, because it eliminates its opposite. "What you're aiming for is wholeness, never perfection."

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