Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Black Swan (1942)

As much as I want to like The Black Swan, I'm having a hard time doing it. Yeah, it's a pirate movie and it's got Tyrone Power at his swashbuckling best. And it's got George Sanders (unrecognizable in his red wig and beard, but unmistakable in his voice). And it's got some fantastic sets and the ships and fights are all awesome. And (despite the picture I've posted) it's in glorious color.

What I can't get past though is the relationship between Power's character Jamie Waring and Lady Margaret (played by Maureen O'Hara, whom I'll never quit confusing with Maureen O'Sullivan).

They meet when Waring tries to force himself onto Lady Margaret during a raid. He tries to kiss her against her will, backs her up against a wall, and then hits her when she still won't let him. Naturally, she falls in love with him at the end.

Okay, that's not completely fair. She treats him exactly as he deserves for most of the movie and he's not exactly supposed to be a role-model for dating. He's an uncouth, offensive, abusive pirate. I think we're supposed to like him anyway, but even if we don't (and I didn't), I'm not going to fault him for being what he is any more than I fault villains for being what they are. For some reason though, Jamie falls in love with Margaret and tries to reform himself. I don't really get why he decides she's the one for him, but she is pretty and maybe he sees her as a challenge. Whatever. I can buy that.

I also buy his rough attempt at transformation. He doesn't do a very good job of it, but it's clear that he thinks he's trying. So, as immature as his view is of how a gentleman acts, he gets credit for giving it a shot.

What I don't get is Margaret's eventually falling for him. I'm a big believer in forgiveness as a concept and I think we should all practice it a lot more in our lives, but from a storytelling perspective, we're never led to believe that Margaret's the forgiving kind. And she'd be perfectly justified in not forgiving Jamie for beating her and more or less trying to rape her. And anyway, it's a long way from forgiveness to falling in love with someone.

As best as I can piece it together, the only reason Margaret would go for Jamie at the end is if she not only recognized his feeble attempt to become a better person, but was already sort of attracted to him all along. If, just as Jamie claimed, she really did just want a man to dominate her and tell her what to do. And while I know that there are women who actually feel that way, the movie didn't give me any reason to think that Margaret was one of them. Until it turned out that she was.

Like I said up top, there's a lot to like about The Black Swan. But you have to get past Jamie and Margaret to enjoy it and that's something I wasn't able to do.

Two out of five shots off the port bow.


Lisa said...

The themes of forgiveness and redemption are pretty common in the Romance genre, whether it's movies or books. It's easy to backload conflict between characters, but it can be very difficult to satisfyingly resolve that conflict.

I think a reader or a viewer will buy into anything so long as the characters are properly motivated. I think you pulled out the weak points in this story: if the heroine was of a more forgiving nature (she's not) or if the hero succeeded in some way at reformation (he didn't), then her capitulation would have been believable despite the rough start in their relationship. One of my pet peeves is when a story is set up with two very strong characters, but it's only the heroine who's will must be subsumed. I feel kind of gipped when that happens.

It comes down to the recurring "taming" theme in love stories, which I find more than a little annoying. I don't want to read or watch a story about either a hero or heroine needing to be "broken" in some way in order to be in a relationship. In a relationship like the one in this movie (I imagine, since I haven't seen it yet) characteristics of their strong natures are probably what drew them to each other in the first place, so what's the appeal in getting rid of those traits?

O'Hara or O'Sullivan was in some pirate movie I saw eons ago, where she played the captain of her own ship. Now I'm going to have to troll around IMDB to see if I can figure out which one it was.

Michael May said...

If it's the movie you're thinking of, it was O'Hara in Against All Flags. Coincidentally, I just added it to my Netflix list last night along with a bunch of other pirate movies.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment too. I'm also annoyed by taming plots. I don't mind when both people have to make changes in order to make the relationship work; that's just realistic. But one person having to completely overcome who she (or, rarely, he) is is pretty repugnant.

I was going to say that's actually not what happens in The Black Swan because they both make changes, but it really sort of is. Jamie makes some superficial changes in order to appear more genteel, but it's Margaret who has to completely change personalities. Blech.


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