June 29, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Black Swan

Black Swan
starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder, & Barbara Hershey
directed by Darren Aronofsky
written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, & John McLaughlin
20 Century Fox (2010)
Purchase via: Amazon

Black Swan may be the least subtle of subtle films I've ever seen. For all of its beauty, drama, brilliant performances, and indelible style from director, Darren Aronofsky, the film really is as subtle as a cinder block.

Nina (Portman) is an introverted ballerina, pushing herself beyond her limits so she might win the lead role of her company's version of Swan Lake. The pressure she puts on herself is only amplified by her domineering, obsessive mother (Hershey) and her arrogant, relentless director (Cassel). Then, as she finally--almost inexplicably--gets her chance, enter a gregarious and fearless dance rival (Kunis).

A drama like this set in the backdrop of a ballet company sounds about as appealing to me as actually going to the ballet. I have endured sitting through a ballet--mercifully in the comfort of my own home as a child on a Sunday night--and it just didn't take. If that makes me a brute, so be it. Still, I was utterly swept up in the story told in this film. Just as Aronofsky's The Wrestler provided a tragic and riveting look at a performer's life in the world of professional wrestling, Black Swan managed to offer an even darker and more frightening portrayal of a desperate and tragic performer, this time in the world of ballet.

While the characters are familiar archetypes and behave in ways audiences might find predictable, the intensity and sincerity of the performances brought something electric to the screen. It becomes pretty easy to see why Natalie Portman walked away with an Oscar this year. As for Mila Kunis, it is downright amazing to see how the girl from That 70s Show (and the abominable American Psycho 2) has turned into a well-rounded and captivating actress.

A surprising treat about the movie comes from the sound. Moments when Nina is at her most fragile, and experiences that can only be described as lapses in reality, are amplified by a great score and unsettling sound effects. One particularly intimate scene between Portman and Kunis features some sinister sounds as the wings tattooed on Kunis' back seem to take on a life of their own. Very cool stuff.

If I'm forced to say something bad about this movie, I guess I'll go with the final act, where Nina's tenuous hold on reality seems to slip right off the precipice. The twists and turns of the performance and her embracing of the Black Swan character reach a point of losing believability, but I avoided cynicism and stepped away from the film thoroughly entertained--and a wee bit haunted.

If you haven't seen this movie yet, what are you waiting for?


  1. Agreed, great movie if not at time predictable and heavy handed. I need to see this one again though. I watched it the first time in a room with someone who didn't want to watch it, and complained a lot during it.

    If you've ever watched a movie with someone like that, you know how it can skew your own enjoyment of the film.

  2. I think I'm going to grab the DVD at the weekend. I ummed about seeing it at the cinema and I've heard so many differing views. If nothing else, I do actually enjoy ballet :)

  3. I've been meaning to watch this one but I've been distracted by other things. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. I loved it too. It was one step removed from being a flat out horror movie, and I don't think the adverbs made clear just how utterly bonkers Nina is. It was advertised more as a chick flick, and men saw it only if their significant others dragged them to it.

  5. Tony - Ugh, I've watched movies with those kinds of people. One of the reasons why the theater experience soured on me years ago.

    Ellie - The ballet is the movie is pretty impressive given how much Portman actually does instead of a "stunt" performer.

    Ryan - I doubt you'll be disappointed.

    Mac - I hadn't thought of the "chick flick" vibe some folks might have had towards the movie. For me, there was no question it was darker than any of that "Sex and the City" garbage. :)