Based on the commercials for Black Swan, I walked into the theater
expecting to see a film about a career ballerina who is forced to
access her repressed dark side in preparation for her role as the swan
queen and cracks under the pressure. Instead, the film I saw was about
a meek young woman who's possibly schizophrenic and certainly on the
verge of a nervous breakdown from the opening reel. There's no real
drama because Nina is already broken. All that's left is for the viewer
is to watch her become increasingly unhinged.
Black Swan has a lot of flaws: The conception of Nina (Natalie Portman) is a major problem. No woman this childish and meek would ever last in an elite dance company, so it's highly improbable that the company director (Vincent Cassel) would single her out for the prima ballerina role. We keep hearing about how Nina is technically perfect but clinical and restrained, but we never see any evidence of this fact because Portman is filmed mostly in tight facial close-ups during these scenes, probably to disguise the fact that her dancing isn't so spectacular.
The film is utterly predictable in that Nina becomes increasingly unhinged to the point that we, the viewer, no longer know whether what we're watching is "real" of one of her hallucinations, which greatly resemble horror movie clichés: she's stalked by her doppelganger, her reflection moves with a mind of its own, she imagines mutilating herself, etc. None of these images are particularly inspired and they spell out the theme of the story in the most obvious way.
Black Swan was utterly derivative of other, better movies. I haven't seen The Red Shoes but so much of Nina's relationship with her mother was cribbed directly from The Piano Teacher that Michael Haneke could probably sue Aronofsky for plagiarism. Likewise, the whole angle of Nina's repressed sexuality leading to her breakdown was done better by Polanski in Repulsion, and that was almost 50 years ago. Black Swan is mostly a hodge-podge of better films.
Finally, the film is every bit as Manichean as its title, with only two poles for its characters: perfectly pure and virginal white or the sensual black whore. Nina has a few drinks, masturbates and tells her oppressive mother off, and we're supposed to take this as some sort of exploration of her "dark side." Her rival ballerina Lily (Mila Kunis) literally has black wings tattooed on her back. Could you get any more obvious? I'd suggest that Black Swan works best as high camp and there were some unintended laughs in my theater, but the film is so self-serious and artistically restrained that it's not even gonzo enough to be funny. Mostly it's misery porn that wallows in Nina's suffering without giving the viewer a credible rationale for watching.
Look, the film is well-directed, it looks great, the actors generally deliver good performances despite under-written roles. I've seen many worse films than Black Swan. But in this case the hype is so wildly overblown that I'm tempted to rate the movie even lower than it deserves. Truthfully, this is a 6 out of 10 picture and only slightly better than average.
Action / Drama / Thriller
Action / Drama / Thriller
Nina (Portman) is a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her obsessive former ballerina mother Erica (Hershey) who exerts a suffocating control over her. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side - a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.
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August 31, 2011 at 09:22 PM