' ' Cinema Romantico: Black Swan

Friday, December 10, 2010

Black Swan

When watching Darren Aronofsky's operatic, mesmerizing melodrama chronicling a gone-mad ballerina assuming the role of a lifetime in "Swan Lake" the viewer will be tempted to ask questions. What's real? What's imagined? Did that happen? Am I seeing things? Is the character seeing things? What does this mean? What did that symbolize? Wait, wait, wait, is this even plausible? Do yourself a serious favor....don't ask them. Forget about them. Let them go. Instead, let yourself go. Give yourself to this movie. Respond to its touch. This is a film to be felt and sensed, not examined and debated. This is the movie of the year.

Natalie Portman is that ballerina, Nina Sayers, raised from the get-go by a "Mommie Dearest" mommy (Barbara Hershey, discreetly terrifying), a former ballerina herself, to be where she is. Sheltered, talented, insecure, her entire existence offstage is prep work for the stage. Nary a word she speaks is about anything but dance. Her company's artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel, sinisterly debonair as always) announces their latest piece will be Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake". Ah, and so who shall be the White Swan, the White Swan who will metamorphose into the Black Swan? It won't be legendary Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder, fearful, almost unrecognizable), Leroy's original "little princess", a trainwrecked shell of her former self. Leroy tells Nina she is the perfect White Swan. But what of the Black? She has the technique, not the feeling. You know how it goes. He casts her anyway, because like Hitchock and his bevy of blondes he knows he can wrestle it outta her. He pushes, prods and provides her, uh, auto-erotic homework.

A new dancer arrives in the company. This is Lily (Mila Kunis), all which Nina is not, and with designs, it seems, on swooping in and stealing the role of the Swans herself. At least Nina becomes convinced this is Lily's intention but as the movie pulsates along and Nina's connection to the role grows more tortured and obsessed all lines begin to blur, and no more specifics of the story shall be revealed here for the viewer deserves to discover them unspoiled.

Yeah, it's kind of absurd. Guess what? So's "Swan Lake", though, make no mistake, this is no high brow cinematic ballet.  This is Silver Screen Euro Dance Trash.  Aronofsky goes gritty, shooting handheld digital, focusing, over and over, on the blood - Dear God, the blood - and the grime, the seedy underbelly, if you will, of the ballet, how the physical toll accentuates the mental toll, and vice versa, and as the storyline grows wilder the filmmaking itself picks up the pace to match this unabashed and admittedly sadomasochistic intensity and culminates in a conclusion so hysterical and beautiful and flawless I literally clasped both my hands to my head. It was the greatest rush I've experienced at a movie in 1,093 days. "Black Swan" is the most lucid fever dream I've ever had, glorious excess in the name of art, gleefully telling restraint and common sense what to go do with itself.

And so we come to Portman. Girl's marbles go bye-bye but she makes her waving adieu to them oh so gradual. Certainly her ceaslessly frightened, frenzied expressions let us know it wasn't all there to begin with - she's like an embodiment of the expensive, fragile antiques no one is allowed to touch in the living room no one is allowed to enter - but we descend step by horrifying step with her into the madness, into the consummation of this role. Essentially what she does is authenticate the outlandishness. So, so much has been said and written about her performance and what I would like to say is this:

Hype, schmype. If you're great, you're great, simple as that, and no amount of pre-release ballyhoo or post-release backlash can change it. Portman is great. She takes it to the limit and she took me there. Will she win the Oscar? Oh, if I had a vote....


Simon said...


Castor said...

And... you have now convinced me to see this in theater. Congratulations :)

Nick Prigge said...

Simon: I've heard it's supposed to get a wide release on December 22. So, you know, just 11 days. Not that long?

Castor: Yeeeeeeeees!!!

I should also mention that as I type this I have just returned from seeing it a 2nd time.