Thursday, February 24, 2011

Black Swan




This is rare, but I would like to talk about a 21st century, even a 2011 movie! This week, I went to see the much talked about Black Swan, Darren Aronosfky’s (Requiem for a Dream, coming up on this blog soon) latest film, and I felt it deserved an entry, as it is probably on its way to become a classic, if only because of Natalie Portman’s mind-blowing performance. We should know next Sunday (27/02/11) if she is getting the Best Actress Oscar.


The official plot states: “A ballet dancer wins the lead in "Swan Lake" and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan - Princess Odette - but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odette's evil sister, Odile, the Black Swan”.

First things first: this is not a movie about ballerinas and the competitive world of ballet dancing.


Nina is overwhelmed, overprotected, and generally choked by her mother, whose career as a ballet dancer never took off. She is the “perfect white swan”, innocent, pure, naïve. In many ways, she is still a child, as is reminded several times in the movie: the pink room full of teddy bears, the mother watching her sleep, etc….. The “perfect black swan”, in contrast, is portrayed by Rival Lily (Mila Kunis): dark, seductive, sexual.


If we accept that we all have multiple aspects to our personalities, then to me Nina is the Child, and Lily is the Woman / Adult, everything Nina aspires to, everything she wants to be, but cannot, as her mother makes sure she remains this fragile, dependent child she can live through. So Nina goes through this over-accelerated, overwhelming teenage crisis she should have gone through years before – the crisis is worsened by the pressure of the competition for the role, as Lily is a friend, a fantasy, but also the alternate, so definitely a rival. On top of it, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel, magnetic and a tad sadistic), after detecting a dark side in her and picking her for the role, keeps using his charms to unleash Nina’s sexuality, seduction, to unleash her Inner Woman, so to speak – in doing so, he pushes her overboard:

Perfection is not just about control. It's also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence. And very few have it in them.


The only person standing in your way is you. It's time to let her go. Lose yourself.


There is also, to me, a lesson on the search for perfection: technically, Nina is perfect, she masters the technique perfectly, but as Thomas tells her:

I see you obsess, getting each and every move perfectly right. But I never see you lose yourself. Ever. All the discipline, for what?

Perfection implies control, and control means absence of spontaneity, which is what Nina is told throughout the movie. This also leads her to doubt Lily’s intentions, as she quickly sees her as a rival: Watch the way she moves. Imprecise but effortless. She's not faking it.

As my grandmother would say: “The best is the enemy of the good”.


Interesting choice of words from Thomas at the very beginning, too:

We open our season with Swan Lake. Done to death I know, but not like this.


In the end though, Nina did get her perfection! What it worth it? Not sure. Movie is filmed very well, and brings the spectator in from the start. I freaked out when Nina’s reflection in the mirror continues dancing after she has stopped, I was convinced she had killed Lily and that she

was now enjoying her first and last show in the spotlight, then, for a brief moment, I thought she might have killed her mother – I did not see what happened next coming, I thought this had all been a dream, that said, it goes back to the point made earlier: the Woman / Adult, who has been repressed all her life, finally gets the chance to (figuratively speaking) kill the Child and come to the surface: “It's my turn! My turn! My turn!”.


Follows one of the most amazing scenes in the movie:

I hope Natalie Portman wins the Oscar. She is the one making the movie what it is. I do not know for sure if she is the one dancing in all scenes, but she has the natural grace of ballerinas, and the expressions on her face, which is often filmed close-up, are extremely credible and realistic. We start looking at the environment the way she does. The end left me a bit frustrated, like “hell, you put the ending credits before the final scene!”, but that’s what made it all the more intense.





I was a bit more confused about the role of Beth, the former star ballerina forced to retire and how to interpret it. Nina wishes so much to be a star, and steals small objects from Beth’s room: nail file, lipstick, perfume etc….. This coincides with the beginning of her hallucinations. I am not sure how to understand this. That said, I enjoyed seeing Winona Ryder come back to the big screen, I always liked her work.

Some of the scenes were a bit difficult for me, a tad scary, a couple were seriously disgusting (close-ups on a broken toe or on bloody fingers not so good)


I was wondering for most of the movie where I had seen Mila Kunis (Lily) before, this is it: she played Jackie, Ashton Kutcher’s Girlfriend, in That 70’s Show. Barbara Hershey is good at the overprotective, annoying, overbearing mother – I thought she looked familiar but could not remember when I have seen her, the only thing I would like to say is: stop surgeries, botox and liftings, ladies!!! That’s enough. 


And Vincent Cassel… well, he is as attractive as ever. Nothing to say! Vincent, if you’re reading….

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