09 February 2011

Movie Review: "Black Swan"

Poster designed by Bemis Balkind
Black Swan
Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder
Story by Andres Heinz
Screenplay by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Theatrical Release Date: 17 December 2010
Date of Screening: 8 February 2011



I first read about this on the DVD Talk forum back and was intrigued by the notion of Natalie Portman playing a ballerina in a psychological thriller.  Seriously, Natalie Portman as a ballerina is one thing.  Natalie Portman in a psychological thriller is one thing.  But Natalie Portman as a ballerina in a psychological thriller?  Now that's something to see!  Then I saw the trailer, and was convinced this would be a daring, artistic film likely to polarize its audience.  Sure enough, it was.  I was almost two full months late getting to see it, but at least I was able to count it toward this year's DVD Talk Academy Awards Challenge.

We caught a matinée showing yesterday afternoon, along with three elderly couples.  I think this is the kind of movie that calls for an intimate setting, meaning a quiet, unobtrusive audience.  I was entirely unaware of anyone else being in the theater once the movie began, so I was able to just lose myself in it.  I like these kinds of movie-going experiences as I get the benefit of the big screen but without the distractions of being at home.  It was nice not having to wait for a cat to settle into my lap.

Anyway, the story gives us a classic ego vs. id conflict.  Nina Sayers (Portman) is an unsung veteran of a dance troupe vying for the role of the Swan Queen in a production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.  Ruled at home by an overbearing and controlling mother (Hershey), she's every bit the virtuous White Swan.  Nina has dedicated herself to achieving perfection; her technique is flawless, but producer Thomas Leroy (Cassel) needs to coax out of her the Black Swan; sensuous and dangerous.  Nina struggles with accessing this inner part of herself, and the conflict escalates until it has affected her relationships with her mother, producer and fellow dancers.

Natalie Portman is in literally every scene of the movie, which is astounding.  The role was clearly demanding physically, and on top of all that she's asked to display some very raw emotion.  This is a performance of great depth and subtlety.  There are several sequences that pass without a word spoken by the actress; she conveys everything through her facial reactions and body language.  It takes an actress of significant talent and experience to handle such tasks without giving too much, and I'm not sure that enough people realize how extraordinary her performance really is--and I say that knowing how many awards she's already won.  She really is that good.

If you're thinking about seeing the movie just to see Portman and Kunis in their much-touted sex scene, that's fine (I won't lie; it's pretty good).  But I fear that many think that's really all there is to Black Swan and that's a shame; there's a lot going on here from a commentary on ageism to the futility of pursuing perfection, from the effects of controlling authority figures to the nature of art itself.

3 comments:

  1. Yeah, as soon as it was over I knew that the hype was true. She was a shoe-in for best actress. Easily the best thing she's ever done, and I love Leon The Professional. Far, far removed from the performance she mailed to a galaxy far, far away. Best way I could think of to describe this movie to anyone else was brutal and unsettling. I told Pork that he's best to see it with me at some point because Tammy is way too empathetic to walk away from this not feeling like someone beat the hell out of her. It really just plays brilliantly with her development of the Black Swan persona. I really like Darren Aronofsky. While I haven't seen Pi, I liked parts of Requiem for a Dream, specifically the old woman's mental breakdown to become another ranting homeless person was chilling and fascinating for the realistic mindset revealed, and the scene with the lovely Jennifer Connelly's bush revealed. The Wrestler is close kin to black Swan for its brutal portrait of the pains endured by choice of the individual. I'm interested to see what his forthcoming "The Wolverine" (yes, of the X-Men) delves into for the comic book genre and have some latent hopes that he might be the man to take over the Batman franchise when Nolan abandons the helm.

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  2. One of the most fascinating--if at times confusing and frustrating--forum discussions I've been part of in ages is built around a guy who responded to my remarks about Black Swan thusly:

    "Natalie Portman can't act worth a damn. Don't know where you got the idea that she could. She acts the same in every movie she's ever been in. When you watch one of her movies, you see Natalie Portman. Other actors, when you watch them, at first you see the actor. But if the movie is good and their acting is good, you soon forget that the actor is themselves and start seeing them as the character. You don't get that from Natalie Portman. Black Swan was nothing but a huge attempt at covering up an unoriginal story with a lot of pretty girls kissing each other. That's all it was. Range and depth ? If you say so. Don't say I don't get it. I do. It was a boring movie. Sure, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis are great to look at, but nothing more. There's nothing to them. Both great to look at but completely cardboard cutout performances in every movie. I do not understand how this could get nominated for anything. Everything was just so wooden and flat. Multi-faceted ? No. It was just throwing in stuff from other movies in an attempt to fill space where nothing was happening, which unfortunately was most of the time. You can like the movie. I can understand people liking things I don't. But you can't say something is good just because you like it. It just means that you like it."

    It's been fun watching everyone try and understand this guy. So far, no success but it's been...fascinating.

    I was unaware that Aronofsky had a Wolverine project in the offing. That should be fun. I liked The Wrestler (though I thought Mickey Rourke's performance was stronger than the otherwise simple story), and I loved Black Swan (obviously).

    ReplyDelete
  3. One of the most fascinating--if at times confusing and frustrating--forum discussions I've been part of in ages is built around a guy who responded to my remarks about Black Swan thusly:

    "Natalie Portman can't act worth a damn. Don't know where you got the idea that she could. She acts the same in every movie she's ever been in. When you watch one of her movies, you see Natalie Portman. Other actors, when you watch them, at first you see the actor. But if the movie is good and their acting is good, you soon forget that the actor is themselves and start seeing them as the character. You don't get that from Natalie Portman. Black Swan was nothing but a huge attempt at covering up an unoriginal story with a lot of pretty girls kissing each other. That's all it was. Range and depth ? If you say so. Don't say I don't get it. I do. It was a boring movie. Sure, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis are great to look at, but nothing more. There's nothing to them. Both great to look at but completely cardboard cutout performances in every movie. I do not understand how this could get nominated for anything. Everything was just so wooden and flat. Multi-faceted ? No. It was just throwing in stuff from other movies in an attempt to fill space where nothing was happening, which unfortunately was most of the time. You can like the movie. I can understand people liking things I don't. But you can't say something is good just because you like it. It just means that you like it."

    It's been fun watching everyone try and understand this guy. So far, no success but it's been...fascinating.

    I was unaware that Aronofsky had a Wolverine project in the offing. That should be fun. I liked The Wrestler (though I thought Mickey Rourke's performance was stronger than the otherwise simple story), and I loved Black Swan (obviously).

    ReplyDelete