Monday, January 31, 2011

The horror of 'Black Swan'

Didn't do much research before seeing "Black Swan," except asking the concessionaire if she had seen it and what she had thought.

"Interesting." she said. "Not what I expected. I don't think I would see it again."

Not exactly a rave review from someone who works at a movie theater, but her analysis was right on.

"Black Swan" is a garish horror movie about a ballerina going bonkers as she prepares for the biggest role of her life in "Swan Lake."

The film is, at turns, riveting and revolting.

The director, Darren Aronofsky, is a favorite of many actors since he revived Mickey Rourke's squandered career in "The Wrestler."

Natalie Portman, the star of "Black Swan," will likely win the Oscar for her performance and rightfully so. She's extraordinary.

But, it's a wonder why Aronofsky didn't trust his actors more in "Black Swan." (Quite the contrast with "The King's Speech," which is a celebration of pure acting.)

Why did Aronofsky need to use a distracting hand-held camera during the opening sequences to convey a sense of edginess. The actors were quite capable of establishing the portent themselves.

Also, was it necessary to show a hospitalized ballet dancer, not Portman, stab herself repeatedly in the face with a nail file? The theme of self-mutilation was firmly established without this scene.

I believe that when a director disrespects his audience in this fashion, the offending scene should be described in every review of the film so that viewers know what to expect.

No, this is not Hitchcock's "Psycho," which pushed the boundaries of screen violence 50 years ago even though most of the violence was implied. In fact, the bloodshed in "Black Swan" is probably tame to most fans of recent slasher films.

To me, though, the hospital scene was not only gratuitous, but also unwatchable. When that happens, the filmmaker fails. I expect horrific violence when watching a World War II film like "Inglorious Basterds," but not when viewing a movie about the graceful art of ballet.

It tarnished what, in many respects, is a disturbing, thought-provoking film about a sheltered girl becoming a woman by raging against her upbringing in the physically and emotionally demanding world of ballet.

To be sure, we see the crudity behind the beauty of ballet in "Black Swan."

There are the backbiting dancers, the pathetically sad stage mom and the ballet company director who exploits his ballerinas. It has a graphic lesbian scene and harsh heterosexual interplay.

It is not pretty. It would drive anyone crazy as it does Portman's character.

In fact, "Black Swan" could do for budding ballerinas what "Slumdog Millionaire" did for Indian tourism. In other words, it's far from a ringing endorsement.

Ballet, under Aronofsfky's direction, is a nightmare, rather than a dream.

Still, "Black Swan" shows that behind personal breakthroughs in art lies an element of madness.

In order to achieve "perfection," rebellion -- in this case against your mom, yourself and everyone around you -- is necessary.

It's a lonely world when that happens.

And, as they say, it's lonely at the top.

1 comment:

  1. I respectfully disagree. The hospital scene wasn't just a bloodbath thrown in the middle of the movie for no reason. The scene represents what was going on in Nina's mind. Beth stabbing herself was a hallucination, when really, Nina was the one who stabbed her. The scene represents Nina's jealousy of Beth, because she thought that Beth was the perfect dancer, which is why Nina was stealing her things, as mentioned in the movie.
    The movie is less about the beauty and gracefulness of ballet, but the things that people go through to achieve perfection and what they will put their bodies through. Nina is trying so hard to step out of her "white swan" and find her "black swan".
    It is also implied that her mother was molesting her, which is why, after the lesbian scene, Lilly says "sweet girl" which is what her mother called her throughout the film. Disobeying her mother was not an just an act of rebellion, she was saying "no" to her because she was scared of her, and wanted out of that torture.
    I, along with many other people, saw this movie as a brilliant piece of art, and would see it time and time again. In my opinion, next time you see a movie, pay attention to what you're watching. Black Swan is fantastic, and you obviously misinterpreted the entire film.