#42 Black Swan

(2010, Darren Aronofsky)

“Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience”

A movie about ballet? Really? Why would I want to see a movie about ballet? Wait, Natalie Portman gets it on with Mila Kunis? Well, that’s won me over. FILM OF THE YEAR 2010!

There, got that out of the way. Yes, there have been numerous mentions of the Sapphic love scenes involving the two female leads, but let’s be mature about this, shall we? Yes, it’s a movie about ballet, but no, it’s not just made interesting for non-ballet fans with a lesbian sex scene. If that was all that gave it the acclaim it received, then I would be seriously concerned about the mentality of your average film critic. No, this is a Darren Aronofsky film. We’ve met him before. In that happy little film about drugs and the fall of “the American dream”. So a film about ballet with lesbians? Oh, with Aronofsky on board, it’s so much more than that.

Portman plays Nina Sayers, a quiet but determined ballet dancer who has received word that she will be playing the Swan Queen in the latest production of Swan Lake. However, director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) isn’t convinced she can play the dual roles of the White and Black Swans effectively. She’s got the innocence of the White Swan down perfectly due to her timid nature, but she’s struggling to effectively portray the Black Swan. With increased pressure from Thomas, her overbearing mother and a rival dancer (Mila Kunis) threatening to take the part away from her, she teeters on the edge of mental breakdown.

The mental breakdown is portrayed perfectly throughout the movie, and like Requiem, the movie is unrelenting with it. Blurring the lines between Nina’s hallucinations and reality, we’re thrown into the same confusion as her. Minor blisters and scrapes morph into painful deformities, while everywhere she looks she sees reflections of a dark version of herself threatening to consume her. The whole descent into madness is directed as if it was a psychological horror movie, and in a sense, it is, except the only monster here is Nina’s own dark side.

Aronofsky’s direction here is brilliant. As well as the truly unnerving dark scenes, the ballet sequences are perfectly choreographed and the editing fast-paced and jarring enough to keep viewers on their toes. The acting is effective across the board too, although Portman is naturally the star here, pulling between the innocent and rebellious sides of Nina’s character perfectly.

There are some issues. The bitchiness of the dance company seemed a little overplayed and unrealistic. It gets to the point where you feel a group of dancers so at odds with each other would never get anything done. They’d be lucky to even put a production of Swan Lake on, let alone have it sell out. There are also problems with some of the horror elements of the film, particularly with Nina’s literal transformation into the titular Black Swan, which seems at odds with the otherwise realistic hallucinations happening here. It didn’t help that one particular shot seemed far too reminiscent of something similar seen in The Fly, which just proved to be distracting due to the very different tones of the two movies.

However, Black Swan is still very powerful. Blending the worlds of Tchaikovsky and Aronofsky together has created a weird but effectively dark movie about the perils of fame and the duplicitousness of the acting world.

Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis & Vincent Cassel
Written by Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman & John J. McLaughlin
Produced by Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Brian Oliver & Scott Franklin
Music score by Clint Mansell, music from “Swan Lake” composed by Tchaikovsky
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Edited by Andrew Weisblum

Favourite Scene: You want me to say the lesbians, but I’m better than that, thank you. No, it’s prior to that, where Nina finally stands up and rebels against her overbearing mother, even if she possibly does take it too far
Scene That Bugged Me: Nina pulls thick black feathers out of scratches on her back. OH GOD SHE’S TURNING INTO A BRUNDLEFLY! The weird knee-breaking that followed didn’t help.

Watch it if: You want to see the concepts of Swan Lake turned on their head
Avoid it if: You think it’s just lesbian porn with ballet

Originally posted on Blogspot Friday 13 January 2012

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Posted on April 12, 2012, in 2000s, Thriller. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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