Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

a miscellany of the wonderful and the banal

Review: Black Swan

with 2 comments

This is what how my NYE started out:

I spent time with many different groups of friends, saw the midnight fireworks on the river, and went to seven or eight different bars, pubs, and clubs, woke up at my own house in my own bed with clear memories of how I got there, and had a disproportionately small hangover in the morning. Much better than last NYE, in the end.

In other news, I was lucky enough to be given tickets to an advanced screening of Black Swan and I went and saw that, and OMGWTFBBQ NATALIE.

(Some very minor spoilers, nothing you couldn’t get from the trailers.)

Swan Lake is a ballet famous for two things; first, the gorgeous score, and second, for the lead being one of the most challenging roles in any ballet. Every classical dancer I’ve met has dreamed of playing the swan queen. The swan is actually two roles; Odette and Odile, the white swan and the black. They are danced, always, by the same performer, because they are identical in appearance; and as Vincent Cassel’s character says, “It’s a hard fucking job to dance both.” Odile, the evil sorcerer’s daughter, is sent to impersonate Odette, and fools the prince with her deception. It’s a metaphor; everyone has a dark side.

Boy, can Darren Aronofsky work a metaphor.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, the new principal dancer of her company, and very much the White Swan. She’s sweet, innocent, shy, and fragile, and it’s that fragility that drives the plot of the movie. Dancing ballet is stressful enough (and for once a film about ballet doesn’t hesitate to show the toll it can take on the dancer’s body, from strained muscles to mutilated toes,) and when she’s promoted to principle her technical skill produces a perfect white swan, but she struggles endlessly with the black. Natalie Portman is utterly heartbreaking here, and Nina’s downward spiral is at times uncomfortably convincing to say the least. At the start of the film, she’s bulimic and has a history of self-mutilation; and I don’t want to spoil the end.

Mila Kunis plays Lily, who is very much the Black Swan of the piece. She’s flirty and fun, carefree–while her technical skills suffer for it, she charms the director with sheer sensuality, and the audience too. Beyond that, it’s hard to get a read on Lily; she’s fascinating, but we only see her from Nina’s point of view, which becomes increasingly unreliable over the course of the film. She’s that rarest of all things in the American film industry, a truly ambiguous character. Kunis was an excellent choice for the role. There are a lot of good actors in this film, actually; Barbara Hershey as Nina’s smothering stage mum, the aforementioned Vincent Cassel as a director who swerves between making a point and sexually assaulting his dancers, and Winona Ryder with brief but memorable cameos as Beth, the former principle dancer.

Black Swan is going to be a polarising film. I don’t think anyone could come out of this film going “eh, it was alright”; it’s very much love-it-or-hate-it material, not least because so much of it is up to interpretation. How much of it did Nina hallucinate? Is Lily lying to Nina, and if she is, when?  Did Nina see the whole film exactly as it happened, or were parts of it just visual metaphor? Can Natalie Portman dance? Does Mila Kunis really have that tattoo? How creepy is Vincent Cassel?

The other major point of contention, I suspect, is that in the end it is based off Swan Lake, and the tragedy is entirely inevitable; if you can’t see it coming from miles off, you probably weren’t paying attention. Something that appeals to me, but probably annoys other people. As you can see I personally fall into the “love it” camp. This is one of those films I am going to watch over and over, I can tell already.

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Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

January 2, 2011 at 1:26 am

2 Responses

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  1. VINCENT CASSEL IS ALL THE CREEPY.

    Liza

    January 4, 2011 at 3:25 am


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