I’m sure that a typical feminist look at The Red Shoes — a 1948 film about a prima ballerina caught between her love and her art — would go something like this:

“Blah blah blah, female oppressed by two men seeking to control her power, one through marriage and the other through professional advantage.” There is of course her husband, the composer Julian Craster, and Boris Lermontov, the director of the ballet — her kind of artistic mentor, if you will, who becomes obsessed with “making her a great dancer.” But I don’t think it’s as simple as slave to housewifery vs. theatrical pawn.

I was surprised that I found myself siding with Lermontov, the aesthetic brute who insists that “the dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love will never be a great dancer.” I’m usually on here writing in an effort to champion human emotions, but… I have to say, I liked this guy. I felt like him championing her talent, believing in it, nurturing it, was way more powerful than any boyish proclamations of love… Or perhaps it was another kind of love altogether: not a clinging, domestic exchange of comfort, but the kind that happens when two people make each other… In this case, into a successful dancer and a fulfilled director.

Maybe I sided with him because that sort of special mentor/pupil relationship, or the psychologically interesting friendship or whatever it is that they had, seems much more rare and special than any kind of romantic interaction. Or maybe it’s because it’s centered around creating something that makes me prefer it.

In any case, the best ending that the movie might have had, in my opinion, was not Victoria Page living as both the successful prima ballerina AND wife of Julian Craster, but… Victoria Page living as the charismatic counterpart of her mentor and director, Boris Lermontov, making ballets for the rest of their lives. They wouldn’t even necessarily have had to get married… But I feel like HE was the one who was really interested in what she was, not Craster, who seemed to be too wrapped up in his own composing ambitions. Boris’s love is about Victoria, whereas Craster’s seems more about just love for love’s sake.

Or maybe Craster’s love is about her human-ness (vs. her identity as a dancer); after all Boris “cares nothing for her charms.” It’s hard for me to separate those two things… You’d die without either one, I guess.

Which is the point of the movie? That they were both denying her aspects of herself? But if I had to choose one man over the other, it would be Boris all the way. I could use a Boris — much more interesting than generic-husbandy Craster.

Boris coaches his prima ballerina, Victoria Page