Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Black Swan


Horror films are so often shunned by the academy awards - mostly because 99% of horror films are not nearly good enough to compete. Even when one comes along, like Black Swan, trailers tend to disguise it as a chick flick drama. But make no mistake, Black Swan is straight up horror.

Nina is an OCD ballerina in New York, trying desperately to be perfect and win the coveted role of swan queen in their upcoming production. All the young die-hard ballerinas are doing their best and added to the competition is an irreverent ballerina from San Francisco, Lily, played by Mila Kunis.

Despite being increasingly anxious and nervous about her competition, Nina wins the part of swan queen. However, creepy stuff starts to happen all over the place after that. Nina sees her doppleganger in random places, the portraits her mother paints start to move, and she even has sex with someone who isn't there (not exactly like The Entity, but close).

Furthermore, Nina begins to undergo a physical transformation, becoming literally, more like a swan. Check out the red eyes.

All the visine in the world won't clear this.

As the horror continues, we begin to realize that Nina is just going crazy, and she is doing all of this to herself. The question becomes, how far will she go?

Natalie Portman is amazing in this film. She has made a lot of crap movies lately (I'm looking at you Star Wars prequels), but this one is fantastic. It's weird how when Portman was just a kid, she always played a very mature child as in The Professional and Beautiful Girls. Now that she's 30, she plays an infatilized adult, scared to death of the world she's in. Nina's fragility makes her the perfect horror film victim. Think Laurie Strode if Laurie were to run into a closet and cry.

Oh, and Barbara Hershey plays Nina's OCD ex-ballerina mother. She isn't naked in the movie, but in case you wanted to see this shot again...


Catfreeek said...

I too loved this film, the intricacy of her descent into madness is done so well. She really was amazing in the role.

Crystal Math said...

I saw this alone in the movie theater and regret nothing! It made my skin crawl and push my comfort level beyond what I'd like it to be when I see a Natalie Portman film. I have always loved the soundtrack to Swan Lake and the ending is absolutely amazing.

(JSP I know you can't stand her but you should give this one a shot!)

Jordan said...

I thought she was brilliant and more than deserved that Oscar (and it made me re-think her career in general and appreciate earlier performances as Oscars tend to) but I really didn't care for the movie, for the same reason that I didn't like Dead Again 20 years ago: I don't really like it when somebody takes a beloved pop genre (detective thriller; psychological horror tale) and tries to make a high-toned version, because while they usually add a ton of genuinely impressive sophistication and artistry and expensive effects and virtuoso filmmaking and acting, they tend to omit or skimp on the basic elements that make the trashy originals work in the first place.

In this case, the problem is that horror stories that deprive you of the punch-line (or, final explanation of everything that you've been told or shown) don't really work. When you spend the whole movie wondering what is actually going on (and navigating through conspicuous or contradictory clues), your enjoyment is diminished if you never find out. Post-1960s, people like Kubrick and Antonioni started ripping the explanation page out (in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blow-up) but it was extremely controversial and the results were derided at the time.

We live in a more cinematic-ally sophisticated world now, which means (perversely) that (as happened a century earlier with modern art) the general audience has become urbane and sophisticated enough to accept that "I don't get it" can happen on purpose, and not only doesn't ruin the movie but actually can improve the experience.

But trying to do that -- trying to nail the genius ambiguity of Stanley Kubrick or Michaelangelo Antonioni -- and getting it wrong is ultimately as problematic as trying to do horror and getting it wrong. It's not that Arrenofsky doesn't know what's going on in his movie that's the real problem (although I really don't think he knows); it's that he doesn't seem to mind not knowing; he doesn't think it makes any difference. I think he's fallen into this trap because of his success with (the mind-blowingly good) The Wrestler, but I won't elaborate for spoiler reasons. Anyway that's my problem with Black Swan. Well-intentioned but inept slumming.

Jordan said...

My favorite Portman performance is Closer (with Clive Owen, Jude Law and Julia Roberts). Amazing, amazing movie!

Octopunk said...

Razor sharp as usual, Jordan. I'll have to see this at some point but you've put me on the lookout for that particular behavior.

However I've seen exactly zero seconds of any Aronofsky film so I can't really play in this discussion. What you say reminds me, oddly, of Uwe Boll, whose cardinal sin is thinking he knows trash but completely misunderstanding which parts of movie making to not care about.

Nice review and pick, Trevor. Good call on Portman's weird woman/child flip.

50PageMcGee said...

this seems like an ambitious flick to write a review of. i've never seen it so i can't really make particular commentary.

perhaps seeing it would help to explain jordan's comment that the punchline is never revealed. the punchline is something other than that she's crazy?

Jordan said...

It's more that the lack of clarity masks their own ambivalence. It's supposed to be "open to interpretation" because "Art" -- that's the well I'm accusing them of tapping even when it's dry.

Jordan said...

David Lynch got away with this kind of thing (especially in Twin Peaks), but that's different because it's (in my opinion) genuine, hard-core surrealism (which Black Swan just isn't; it's neither coherent enough nor weird enough).

Trevor (Tami's friend) said...

I'm with you on the failed trendiness of many filmmakers trying to do the ambiguity thing.

I didn't feel that was the case with Black Swan. I felt the whole subplot with Winona Rider showed us what the future of Natalie Portman's character would be.

Good call on Closer too. Intense, far too realistic film.

Jordan said...

Oh, everything involving Winona Ryder was amazing! Just brilliant casting for obvious reasons. It was nearly overshadowed by that fucking idiot who played the choreographer, though.

Whirlygirl said...

I'm staying out if this discussion, but I will say I enjoyed this film, and Portman was sensational.

I haven't seen Closer, definitely will now.

DCD said...

Closer was an interesting flick, I can't really say I loved it, but natalie was very good. I totally want to see this movie.

JPX said...

I liked this film a lot, especially because it does an excellent job depicting someone who is suffering from psychosis. I've had patients just like this.