December 30, 2010

Black Swan

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) wants to be the lead in Swan Lake. Her obsession with being a perfect ballerina leads to some kind of psychological breakdown a la Roman Polanski's Repulsion. It's the weirdest movie of 2010, one that leaves you feeling cold and disturbed by its bizarreness. Director Darren Aronofsky keeps us up close and personal with Nina throughout the movie, and I don't think there's a single scene she's not in. Her creepy, conniving nemesis, Lily (Mila Kunis), seems innocuous except for the fact that movie keeps telling us over and over again that this is about Nina's destruction in order for another ballerina to take her coveted place. It's like All About Eve in terms of the mousy young novice snatching the spotlight from the aging star. Except, there's a scene in a bar where Nina tells a young man that she's a ballerina and he's completely disinterested in ballet and doesn't even know Swan Lake. So, Nina is obsessed with and being torn apart by something that no one cares about. It's an attempt at marrying "high" art (ballet) with "low" art (movies), and I think in the process they're both taken down a few notches.

The movie has moments that make you think Nina is possessed by a demon. Is this The Exorcist all over again? Then Nina takes some ecstasy at Lily's urging and it seems more akin to Aronofsky's earlier Requiem For A Dream. Black Swan is a movie about how truly beautiful and perfect art can only be so if you are willing to die for it, to be completely consumed by it. And the act must be completed to truly work. There is no half-hearted attempt at perfection. Perfection is death, we are told. Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) as the director of the ballet company, seems convinced of this, but it really just seems like he wants to get laid. He's been feeding such fiddle faddle to the previous ingenue Beth (Winona Ryder), who's forced into retirement by her age (and she's not content to exit the stage in a graceful manner). Beth winds up being hit by a car and disfigured, rendered ugly and useless. And so only the young can truly experience the perfect beauty of art. Those past their prime can die by their own hand but not by the perfection of their craft. 

Meanwhile, Nina has a really sordid relationship with her mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), who reminds you of the mom in Carrie (Piper Laurie). The mother-daughter relationship seems to contribute to Nina's madness, but then Aronofsky doesn't seem convinced about what the cause of her madness is. Perhaps it's simply a combination of Nina's unhealthy relationship with her mother and her obsession with being perfect, of being the Star. Regardless, we are being prepped for some kind of Jeckyll and Hyde transformation throughout Black Swan. You spend the entire movie so mired in Aronofsky's cold, freakish world that you experience a feeling of relief when it's all over and done with. Sure it's affecting, but it's also pretty dismal.

Aronofsky loves playing with the imagery of the Double. The movie is full of mirrors. We're beaten over the head with the doppelganger image. And pink seems like the color of death in Black Swan. A pink cake incites a bit of tension between mother and daughter. The hospital curtains in Beth's room are pink. The flowers filling the floor of her room are pink. The towel Nina uses to cover up an increasing pool of blood is pink. Pink, the most obvious and disinteresting symbol of innocent girlhood, becomes a cinematic device just like the mirrors to insinuate things that eventually come to the surface. It's all about Nina's sexual coming of age. The movie's much-celebrated eroticism is something out of a college fraternity boy's wet dream. Nina must find herself via sexual experimentation. She needs to "loosen up" in order to perfect her art. Her skill is brilliant but it's too forced, too skilled in fact, to really propel her into the realm of total emotional abandon. But it's all so creepy that you feel like the worst kind of voyeur for watching.

1 comment:

Li said...

Just got out of this film. Even after reading your review and others I'm not sure I get it. It seemed all too convoluted and really, really creepy. All I kept thinking was "psychosis". Nina disturbed me greatly (as did her creepy mother and her relationship with said creepy mother), but at the same time I think her character was just an exaggeration of emotions that we all encounter in ourselves at some time or another.

All that said, I didn't really like it. I was the girl in the second row who annoyed everyone else by laughing in the wrong places (were there any right places in that movie?).