Saturday, December 4, 2010

Review: Black Swan (2010)

Carrie Fisher once said she hated writing, but loved having written. That is a pretty close match to my feelings towards watching a Darren Aronofsky film. I can’t say I enjoy watching these bleak, raw explorations of human misery, but I love having watched them.

I made the mistake of watching Requiem for a Dream one Thanksgiving morning. By the time I showed up to my friends’ house for dinner, I looked like I had just walked away from a plane crash – ashen, confused, a little less optimistic about the future and a lot more anxious about the present.


Black Swan did not quite disturb me that deeply, but it did leave me with a sour stomach and a feeling of unease.

I think Mr. Aronofsky would be happy to hear this. He seeks to disturb. Though his movies are not horror per se, they share the basic arc of a horror film. Things go from bad to worse for the protagonist(s) as they embark on an unerring collision course with their doomed fate.

With tight dizzying angles and raw uncompromising performances, Aronofsky is expert at strapping his audience in so tightly to the experience of his doomed protagonists that you feel every ounce of their torment and confusion on their plummet to hell.

In Requiem, the dark side is represented by addiction. In Black Swan, the dark side is the Black Swan herself – the seductive, dark side of the Swan Queen in the ballet Swan Lake.

Our heroine is Nina (Natalie Portman) the ballerina – a study in perfectionism, rigidity, and hyper-competitiveness. And like the archetypal Final Girl of slasher movies, she has a few issues with her body and sex.

Though she scores the lead in Swan Lake, she lacks the dark, animalistic, lustful grace of the black swan. She can embody the light, but not the darkness required of the dual role.

In fact, Nina is so uncomfortable in her own skin, she tries in vain to scratch it right off of her bones. It seems to be one of her many antagonists. She is so alienated, she cannot even count on her skin as an ally.

But there are many more antagonists to be found in Nina's dreary world: a psychotic aging Ballerina (Winona Ryder) who isn’t quite ready to be replaced; a sleazy stick of sex of a director (Vincent Cassel); an overprotective, infantilizing, sabotaging mother (Barbara Hershey); and a sexy, backstabbing minx of an understudy (Mila Kunis).

As Jung warned us, denial of our psychological shadow has both a personal and worldwide cost. What we deny, we can project onto others, leading to violence against individuals or groups we perceive as demons. Or we can start to view our own dark sides as an internal evil that needs to be destroyed, leading to addiction, self-abuse and psychosis.

Black Swan, like Requiem, is an exploration of the latter. Nina’s need to stay her mother’s perfect little sweet girl and to become the perfect Swan Queen, while lacking any connection to her own darker nature, is the seed of her undoing.


Though I can’t say I enjoyed the experience of watching Black Swan, I marveled at the the performances, cinematography, and the dancing itself.

As the many close-ups of the dirty undersides of the ballerina’s slippers portray, this is a film about the soul-destroying dark underbelly of the people-pleasing perfectionism that drives many performers. It's a trait that drives these individuals to great heights, only to leave them there without the emotional maturity or relational skills to handle the altitude.

And, though Natalie Portman gives a career-defining performance as Nina, it doesn’t hold a candle to THIS.

1 comment:

  1. This movie really fascinates me. Never seen this yet.

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