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A review: "Black Swan"
December 27, 2010 - Scott Muska
When I was wondering if I should go and see "Black Swan" after work last night, I asked my friend Heather, who had seen it earlier in the week, if it would be a beneficial life decision.
She told me that yes, it would be, as long as I wasn't offended by, um, certain sexual things. I'm no prude, especially when Natalie Portman AND Mila Kunis are involved, so I went to see it. And I'm glad I did. Not for that reason, either. I'm no prude, but I'm no pervert, either.
ANYWAY. Darren Aronofsky ("The Wrestler," "Requiem for a Dream") has earned the hype his films have finally begun to receive, that's for sure. He's one of those directors who never sells out, and works rarely, only whenever he finds something he can really get into. In this way, he's like Daniel Day Lewis (and if they ever did a film together, I'd have to try really hard not to start screaming in the front row like I was a 10-year-old girl at a Miley Cyrus concert). He ends up with big names in his projects, though, because he's become a go-to director for actors who want to be taken seriously and want to win awards. In this way, he's kind of like Joel and Ethan Coen. It's this formula that allows him to make indie-esque movies that deliver complex and serious messages that many people will actually want to go see. His movies become acclaimed by both critics and audiences alike. In this way, he's like James Cameron, if you take away the gimmicks and weak storylines (I didn't dig "Avatar).
I expected "Black Swan" to be dark, since that's just the way Aronofsky tends to get down. It was. I've told a few people that "Requiem for a Dream" is one of the more messed up movies I've seen, and I'd make the argument that "Black Swan" may have even been darker for this reason: In "Requiem," everything takes a turn for the insane because the main characters are all addicted to heroin. In "Black Swan," everything takes a turn for the insane because Nina Sayers (Portman) literally goes insane. Drugs play a small role in a couple consecutive scenes in "Black Swan," but Sayers isn't addicted to them and it'd be difficult to make the argument that they were at the root of her problems. Her problems go on in her head, which makes it all the more frightening.
"Black Swan" takes you into the world of professional ballet dancing, a world most really don't get exposed to. It does for ballet what "24/7: Penguins--Capitals" does for professional hockey, except "Black Swan" deals with pretty and unstable women, while "24/7" deals with goofy, toothless dudes who are much better dressed than one would anticipate (it's a bit more light-hearted). You find out immediately that this world is very demanding, the dancers are very dedicated and everyone involved takes it very seriously, and unapologetically so. This dancing is not the kind of dancing you do for fun on Saturday nights at The Shandygaff.
Portman's performance is very convincing. She's trying to find a way to tap into her reserves of both good and evil in the time leading up to the opening night of her dance company's rendition of Tchaikovsky's ballet "Swan Lake." The pressure from her annoyingly arrogant company leader, Thomas Leroy (a part Vincent Cassel straight kills) seems to be the initial catalyst for the absurdity that ensues. Throw in her strangely close relationship with her Mom (Barbara Hershey) -- they share a tiny apartment in New York City, even though Sayers is somewhere in her 20s -- and her friendship-turned-rivalry with fellow dancer Lily (Kunis), and you've got three strong contributors to the amplification of her pre-existing psychological issues.
Once all of those come together, it gets pretty wild.
The most impressive trait of "Black Swan" is its ability to make a person who may be (at least mostly) sane feel a little bit what it might be like to go insane. The acting, camera work, special effects and writing all contributed strongly to that in some way. There is real life, and there are hallucinations, and after a while it's kind of difficult to discern one from the other. There are scenes in the movie that are genuinely frightening, and not in the way Freddy Kruger or Lord Voldemort are frightening. You walk out of the theater with the eerie feeling that this could have almost been real. It is possible for anybody to go insane, and it must be a horrible thing to have happen to you. If I were a professional ballerina, I think I'd be very legitimately freaked out by what Aronofsky decided to make.
I wouldn't recommend this movie to everyone. It's very serious, and some parts are pretty graphic. It's about dancing, but it's complicated; it is not "Dirty Dancing" or "Footloose." It's the usual Aronofsky jawn, and it's good to know his style going in. If not, you might end up like one of my friends, who said it was a bit too much for her to handle. She "really wanted to like it," though.
I guess that makes it this year's "Juno." An indie movie with famous people that everyone WANTS to like, because it's cool to. That doesn't mean everyone will, but I did.