While researching an article on film certification I came across the BBFC podcast. In one of their episodes they mentioned the highest number of complaints they have received in recent years was for Black Swan (2011). The most interesting thing was how few complains and what they were for; The number was around 40 and the reason, parents complaining that their daughters who were expecting a nice film about ballet. It was clearly a case of expectations. The trailer makes the film look like the giallo inspired psychological horror/thriller that it is. As someone who grew up watching films on video with a certificate beyond my age I may not have the best judgment on the subject, however I do think the 15 is about right.
A look at the BBFC website gives a interesting insight into how they came to the decision “Black Swan presented the BBFC with a whole range of classification issues when it was submitted for an advice viewing in 2010”. It appears the reasons the film received the 15 certificate and was considered for an 18 include: Sex, language, drug use, self harm and bloody images as described in the BBFCinsight (BBFCinsight is aimed particularly at parents. It offers a summary of how and why a film was rated at any given category). The film’s director Darren Aronofsky previous made Requiem For a Dream (2001) that received an 18 certificate for “strong drug use, language, violence, sex and medical gore”. Everything in the film stems from the drug use, and if there ever was an anti-drug film this is it.
As mentioned, it’s all a matter of perspective. Black Swan is a psychological thriller about the breakdown of an emotionally fragile young woman. On the other hand the seminal Ballet movie Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s THE RED SHOES (1948) is actually a darker movie. When you strip away the stunning photography and fantastic score you are left with a story of a woman who is forced to make an impossible choice between love and the job she loves. It’s a fairytale with all the sweetness and happiness removed. A movie that is as devastating as it is beautiful. Without the sex, language, drug use, self harm and bloody images the film has a U rating meaning anyone of any age can watch it without any warning that they are going to have their heart and hope ripped from them.
I’m unsure what conclusions we can draw from this other than to say films aren’t always what you expect and the written guidelines such as BBFCinsight are probably more relevant the simple number or letter of the certificate.