Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Black Swan (2010)

Natalie Portman stars in Black Swan as a ballerina losing her grip on reality, while pushing herself towards a flawless performance as both white and black swan in a production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. In the ballet, a princess is transformed into a white swan, and only love can make her human again, but when the black swan swoops in and seduces the prince, the white swan accepts her failure and ends her own life. The story parallels Nina (Portman)'s struggle to perfect her performance in the days leading up to the ballet's opening. She is the perfect white swan - beautiful, graceful, innocent, with masterful technique - but nailing the performance of the black swan requires her to lose control of herself, to loosen up and act more on instinct. These qualities are embodied in Nina's friend/rival Lily (Mila Kunis), who opens the door to Nina's transformation into the black swan.

This movie is beautiful, and haunting. The production is epic, and really manages to capture the atmosphere of a theater show. My primary complaint would be the claustrophobic (and unfortunately very shaky) camera work. You could argue that it contributes to the unstable mood of the piece, but I would have felt better with a steadier cam and larger perspective. I really appreciated the erotic element of the story: the seduction of Nina by her teacher ("your homework tonight: go home and touch yourself"), as well as the sexual tension between her and Lily. I don't usually get "excited" in the theater, but it was really hot when Lily went down on Nina. There was nothing explicit (not even nudity), but the suggestion was strong.

This is a really good movie, and I'm glad it's receiving a lot of praise. Yet, I feel like I don't like it as much as I should, seeing as it's a combination of two things I love - the pretty world of ballet, and the dark realm of horror. But while I love the juxtaposition of pretty and scary, here it seems that rather than place them side by side, the prettiness is tainted at every corner by the horror. I like the pretty facade of ballet - the graceful dancing that is presented on stage - but behind the curtains is a dark world of injuries, wounded emotions, and intense pressure to perform.

Another thought I have is that the ballerinas are all too old. I know that not all ballerinas are 14 years old, and this isn't a flaw in the narrative - the fear of being past one's prime seems to be a central theme - but rather just a reason for my reduced enjoyment. There is some age discrepancy that complicates the characterization of the star Nina. Her overbearing mother treats her like she's twelve, and she acts all sweet and innocent (at first), that it feels like she doesn't belong in the body of a 28 year old (I'm really not sure what age the character is supposed to be). But then later, she goes drinking and drugging and sexing, and all those things that are expected of a person her age. If she were cast younger, then the black swan's behavior would be that much more inappropriate - but, I think that would make the horror that much darker; the contrast that much richer. Rather than rooting for the white swan to break out of her mold, which she needs to do anyway, you'd be more afraid for her, descending into the dark world of the black swan.

But on the other hand, as it stands, I can relate to her more, as a person who desperately needs to grow up already, and learn to let go, to realize her true potential. But the way things turn out for her is exactly the reason I'm so scared to relinquish control. Perhaps I could be great, but at what cost?

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