Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Black Swan (2010)

Fear 5/5
Gore 3/5
Entertainment 5/5
Creepiness 5/5

I once dated a girl in high school who was a dancer. She specialized in jazz/hip-hop but always wanted to try her hand (er, feet?) at being a ballet dancer. She never had the body for it she would tell me even though she was very slim and toned. But more importantly than that, she knew the grueling nature of the dance style. Not for a lack of dedication but more because ballet dancers (seasoned, professional, obsessive ballet dancers) are of a different kind. Rolling ankles, breaking them oftentimes along with toes and toenails, constantly completing and repeating the same dance routine over and over and over until absolute perfection is achieved. Its is the kind of dance style where not only are you physically dedicated, but emotionally as well, far more than any other. Losing yourself totally to the style and the music that accompanies it because the expressive nature of the dance demands that you do so. Why am I telling you all of this as a prelude to my review? I guess understanding that style of dance and the dedication needed for it lent itself to making my film going experience all that much more terrifying. But watching Natalie Portman’s complete immersion into her character as it unfolded onscreen did a brilliant enough job of conveying the crazy and obsessive nature that is so common with people that take up this style of dance.

From the start, a picture is painted of Portman’s character Nina: one of a young, innocent, sexually restrained girl. This picture is affirmed upon inspection of her room. She may be a young twenty something but her room cries of a 12 year old girl. It’s stocked with stuffed animals and all the pink frilly things you’d likely associate. It also doesn’t help that her mother still treats her like a child, putting her to bed at night, waking her up in the morning and constantly referring to her as ‘My sweet sweet girl.’

Nina happens to be a very talented and gifted ballet dancer. After putting in years of hard work with her dance troupe, she’s finally earned top bill as the White Swan in the production of Swan Lake. There's only one problem: she doesn’t have the seductive, alluring, alter personality that’s needed to effectively play the part of the character’s polar opposite, the Black Swan. It’s a dual role that she so desperately wants but her director doesn’t think she has it in her to play.

Arriving on the scene is another girl who immediately displays the necessary characteristics which Nina does not possess. She shows up late to practice, brazenly interrupts Nina’s dance, and later, she flirts with male cast mates and smokes. All of her actions eventually come under the judging and watchful eye of Nina to the point where Nina starts inventing perceived actions as a manifestation of her obsessive, at all costs, desire to play both parts. Nina comes to believe that she is a true threat.

Through the invention of these actions, a few sexual awakenings and a stand against her controlling mother (who’s overcompensating for her own shortcomings in the same profession), Nina becomes that other side, that other person she needs to become in order to successfully play the dual role. It’s difficult to put into words the transformation process (its hinted at throughout the running time of the film). Aronofsky does a brilliant job of blurring the lines of reality until our fateful finish. But the process she goes through in getting there is terrifying. The last 20 min. or so of our film, where she completely turns, rebels, and rids herself of the perceived threat, is some of the most terrifying I’ve ever witnessed onscreen. Accompanied by an incredible score, you'll be riveted all the way until the very bitter end.

And make no mistake. This is billed as a psychological thriller. But it is most definitely a horror film.

Cortez the Killer


Pax Romano said...

Great review, my friend. I saw it this weekend as well, and was equally a gobsmacked as you.

I smell Oscars!

Pax Romano said...

equally "as" gobsmacked...

Geof said...

Terrific review. Loved the film and Portman was amazing. I just watched The Wrestler again today and I am always amazed how Aronofsky gets to my emotions. Besides a couple so-so's he keeps busting out some interesting cinema, like him or not.

The Film Connoisseur said...

It's got that body horror element to it that we often time see in David Cronenberg films. But I also got a whiff of Polanski, like those dark psychological Polanski films like Repulsion and The Tenant. (Highly recommend both of them!)

Cortez The Killer said...

@Pax, if Natalie Portman doesn't win best actress, it would be downright criminal. I know the competition for best picture and personally, I still think its better than all of those films.

@Geof, totally agreed. He knows how to grab onto you and not let go. I like Pax's statement on his own review of the Wrestler and Black Swan being perfect bookend stories.

@TFC, good to see you friend!Good call on the body horror element. That's not something I'd thought of. And very apt comparisons to Polanski's work.

Bryce Wilson said...

Well said sir. I love that the biggest arthouse hit of the year isn't just a horror film but a full on Body Horror film.

And was I the only one who got a whiff of Crash here as well. Those shots of Winnoa Ryder's Leg... Yeesh!

Starlight said...

Excellent review. I agree that the last 20 minutes was like nothing I've ever seen. Scary because of how intense it was.

Mike said...

Awesome review, first of all. Even though i though this was a great flick, for some reason that i cant quite put my finger on, i dont think is should have gotten as much praise as it has gotten. Like you, i loved how the lines between fiction and reality were blurred and i was totally blown away by the last 30 minutes or so. I though that the ending was the perfect and only way that the film could have ended. Props for that. However something about the build up had bothered me. This flick was, somewhat of a slow burn through the first half and while this was necessary to the character development it seemed like nothing more than Nina alternately crying and masturbating. I understand that this was pivotal to her character, but after a while, for me anyway, it became annoying.
The other aspect that i felt was lacking was that of a strong character that the audience could empathize with. While many former dancers could empathize with Nina, it was hard for me to do so as a general audience member. I was almost driven to the point where i disliked the character of Nina. That being said, the character that i found to be the most empathetic was actually Lily. Even though she did try to take Nina's role from her, it was understandable in the context of the movie since the competition for Prima Ballerina is very cutthroat. She was really the only one in the film who seemed to have a normal life not totally consumed by ballet. And in the end, she even gave props to Nina for her outstanding performance even though she was her rival.
One other thing that bothered me was the resolution of the subplot between Nina and her mother. It seemed to simple to resolved the way it was. While i understand that while her mother was a former ballerina and when Nina performed so beautifully that it gave her mother closure after failing in her in career and living vicariously through her daughter, but the build up seemed like it was taking it in a totally different direction. I guess i can chalk that one up the a good red herring, but i was still somewhat unfulfilled by that subplot.
Overall, i like this movie, even though there were bits that annoyed me. Stellar review as usual, however i wouldn't have given it a fear rating of 5/5, more like 3/5 but im in total agreement with the other ratings.

Cortez The Killer said...

@Bryce, thanks good sir. Not sure I see Crash reference. Are you talking about the cop who ends up seeing his brother killed? Like he saw a version of himself that he wanted to be?

@Starlight, that last 20 min. is so whirlwind. My heart was racing the entire time.

@Mike, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I could see where the pacing going from a slow burn to a full on sprint by films end could be frustrating. I saw it necessary to convey the full force of what Nina was going through. Like a train that had gone off the rails.

I think I empathized with Nina more for her situation than her as a person. She was almost being held captive by her mother. In a way, her becoming the black swan also symbolized her awakening as a person. Its just tragic that it also left her with an altered perception of reality and ultimately, led to her demise.

As far as Lily goes, I still think she wasn't out for her at all. It was all a manifestation of her obsession. She may have played vixen but she was hardly the villain.

Good stuff! And thanks again for sharing your thoughts. This why I love horror films, everything is subjective and in the eye and mind of the beholder.

Mike said...

Honestly, i saw the reasoning behind why the pacing and her character were the way they were, i honestly think that it just irked me and it wasn't because of any real flaws of the film. I think i just wanted there to be little flaws throughout because of my annoyance. Again though, i still thought it was one hell of an entertaining flick.

Bryce Wilson said...

Er... No dude Croneberg's Crash. lol.

Cortez The Killer said...

HA! Oh snap. I totally forgot about that film. Honestly, its one of the few Cronenberg film's I've never gotten around to seeing.

Mrs. Hall said...

here's my review!

I think after the ballerina on ballerina action things got a little lame.

it was an odd mix of the surreal and the thriller. didn't really work for me at the end.

too bad they didn't just keep going with the ballerina on ballerina action!

Mrs. Hall said...

I mean here:


Mrs. Hall said...

just to clarify, I work in the mental health field, so all the psychological underpinnings used in the film were nothing new to me. (the picking, the scratching, the submissive behavior, the arrested development of Nina by her Mom).

So I really wanted Nina just get on with it, embracy the crazy black seductive awesome inside her. This was the ballerina on ballerina scene. Then it all went back to her, becoming unglued.

kind of pissed me off. I was rooting for her. And I knew she could find balance between the black and the white.

it's just too bad.

so no, the ending didn't really do much for me. :)

Cortez The Killer said...

@Mrs. Hall, interesting perspective and point about her being able to strike a balance instead of going full bore crazy. I took it as she just didn't have it in her to be both. When she crossed that other side, there was no turning back. She was destined to become a victim of her own obsession.