Rambling ...

I'm an Irish Girl, A Dubliner, with the 'Gift of the Gab' ... I like to talk & to tell you things. In Celtic times news, views and comment were carried from place to place by wandering Seanachaí ~ Storytellers ~ who relied on their host's hospitality and appreciation. I will need that from you too, as I venture to share Politics, Poetry, Laughter, Love, Life & everything in-between ... from Bog to Blog!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Black Swan!!

 Monday Movie Review ..... except it is late & it is now Tuesday.  My real flesh life keeps getting in the way.   I'm sorry .... maybe this new movie I've just seen will make up for that. Black Swan is an intense psycho-sexual drama which touches on a number of themes ranging from parental oppression and body dysmorphic disorder to sexual repression and the search for perfection.  It is the latest film from the challenging director Darren Aronofsky, the man behind films such as Requiem For a Dream & The Fountain (and The Wrestler which I haven't yet seen). 

 If you've seen the spectacular trailer (below),  you may worry you've seen too much,  but Black Swan is pretty difficult to spoil.  The story is what you already know ~  Natalie Portman's Nina is a ballerina at a New York City Ballet company who's struggled for years to get recognition, egged on by her pushy Mom (Barbara Hershey) whose own ballet dreams never made it far, and consistently diminished by the company's director Tomas (Vincent Cassel), who sneers at Nina as often as he praises her. She's cast as the lead dancer in a Swan Lake revision,  Black Swan,   which is a double role ~ the virginal, doomed White Swan, and the vicious and manipulative Black Swan.  Nina's got the White Swan nailed, but her shy demeanor and obsession with perfection keep the Black Swan's sexual and violent edginess just out of reach.  Born for the former, Nina needs to reach deep into herself to conjure the latter, and in the process unleashes…

Well, the question of what exactly she unleashes becomes part of the movie’s overall mystery. Aronofsky quickly places us inside his heroine’s head, to such an extent that we don’t know what’s real or what’s an illusion. Is she going mad? Is she being stalked by a supernatural monster? Is her best friend/enemy Lily (Mila Kunis) in the company plotting to destroy her? She can’t be sure and neither can we, as Black Swan ratchets the Hitchcockian tension up until it's almost unbearable to take.   You're invited to laugh sometimes, as Nina hallucinates a blood-soaked knife in her hands, or discovers her ever-present mom in the room in an, errrr ... intimate moment. But for all the moments of fantasy and shocking horror, Nina's descent into madness and struggle to break free from her stifling childhood feels quite real.  Portman
sells every inch of the character, and makes a convincing ballerina to boot!

In Aronofsky's hands, the world of professional ballet never seemed more brutal. Little girls the world over dream of donning a tutu and becoming a ballerina princess, but the reality is much more demanding ... backbiting understudies who would see you broken to get your part, endless hours of grueling routines, and feet which bleed from being en pointe for hours on end are par for the course for these perfectionists, so it's no wonder they start to go a little crazy.   Into this mix comes the free-spirited and sexually adventurous Lily (Mila Kunis), a transfer from the San Francisco ballet.   Before long, Nina and Lily embark on a dangerous relationship which is part-friendship,  part-rivalry, & which threatens to shatter Nina's already tenuous grasp on her sanity.   

There are  unfiltered scenes of psychotic breakdowns, self-mutilation and lesbian sex, and maybe monstrously,  Aronofsky also dares to mess with a classic ....  in this case Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake classic 1876 ballet score , via his composer Clint Mansell.  In several key scenes Mansell plays with the music, twisting and manipulating the familiar strains of Tchaikovsky's strings with electronic groans and pulses that illustrate Nina's tortured psyche,  intentionally obscuring Tchaikovsky's beauty.

 The physical demands of ballet reach a skin-crawling extreme, as the need for perfection  ~   Black Swan colours those natural grotesqueries with changes of a more monstrous variety, as Nina finds herself sprouting feathers and developing inhumanly bloodshot eyes (which may or may not be real). Yet rather than resisting it, she dives straight in, searching desperately for her dark side to bring both halves of the role to life and show the world just how good she can be  ~  leads to torn nails, ritualistic cuts and repeated purging in the toilet.

Determined to make it work,  Nina tries all kinds of things to get in touch with her inner Black Swan, from allowing Tomas to seduce her to spending a wild night with new ballerina Lily   (Mila Kunis), who is as free-spirited as Nina is repressed.   All the while Nina experiences some weird stuff, from seeing her own face in that of strangers to a persistent rash on her shoulder blades that looks all the world like a sprouting wing. Things get weirder as the Swan Lake debut grows nearer, and it's less a question of how Nina will be able to embody the Black Swan than how much a toll it will take on a sheltered, fragile girl who has lived her life in New York City but knows no world outside of ballet.

Mila Kunis’s character will never scale as high as Nina does, but her talent comes naturally ~ with an effortlessness that speaks to a more rounded life ~ and the perceived threat goads Nina to work even harder for fear of conceding her place. She has the company’s former prima ballerina (the wonderful Winona Ryder) ~ now washed up and cast aside ~ as a cautionary example, grimly reminding us that the glory she seeks is only temporary.   The results are astonishing ..... a portrait of beauty and monstrosity inextricably intertwined and presented in irresistible terms. Aronofsky trusts his material enough to leave some questions unanswered, which of course only heightens our fascination and will doubtless trigger countless arguments about the specifics of Nina’s state.   The emotional cost of achieving her dream & creating perfection mirrors her descent into madness.

 Portman navigates the arc of her character beautifully, cooing "pretty, pink" at her breakfast grapefruit in an early scene and sharing a passionate kiss with Kunis later on (or does she?  ~ Scriptwriters Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin don't say!).   Kunis makes a wonderful temptress while Hershey really puts the 'mother' in smother. Cassel brilliantly plays yet another complete bastard, and Winona Ryder makes the most of her minor role as a prima ballerina in decline.

Audaciously weird and scary and even go-nuts psychotic,  Black Swan is,  by any measure, a' tour de force'.   It grabs you in from the first moment, a dream sequence ballet filmed with spinning camera and visceral sound effects and blaring classical music, establishing with force a world in which frailty and strength must exist within the same dancer, and where the only thing between grace and breaking point are a pair of thin silk shoes.   Aaronofsky  has also made a damn effective horror movie, (or at the very least a supernatural thriller),  and wrung a career-best performance from Natalie Portman.  He couldn’t have done it without Portman,  an actress who has flirted with greatness only intermittently, but who may now have the role which defines her career.     Her acting is as flawless as her ballet performance,  as her acting performance in the movie is as perfect as Hamlet itself!

Only the very best directors can incite such passion, and only films this amazing can fully justify it.  Believe the hype ....  Black Swan is that good!!!!!!   In fact I doubt it will see an equal this year, and if there’s any justice in the world, it will reap the rewards it so richly deserves well past this awards season.


  1. Hey Pana great piece. I think you would make an awesome journalist or writer. You have got talent. I myself am attempting to write a novel as I like Faeries as well, I do not know if my writing even comes close to yours. But hey you are more than welcome to read and leave comment.

  2. I just downloaded it! Watching it real soon :-)

  3. Thank you Steve .... a girl always loves compliments!

    Moshe ... I think you will like it. I await your thoughts!