Black Swan

Black Swan left me with one thought – what the hell did I just see? Is it a ghost story? A psychological thriller about the disintegration of the self? An allegory of the duality and destructive/creative forces of art? None of the above? All of the above? I'm not completely sure. What I do know is Natalie Portman's performance is a tour de force.

I saw some comments on a blog that said she has the same expression on her face through the entire film, which makes me wonder if we saw the same movie. She's got about six conflicting expressions during one phone call after she gets some critical news. It's possible that I was more tuned in to the quality of Ms. Portman's acting than the author of the post, as I was watching it specifically to decide who to vote for in the SAG awards. A couple of years ago I realized that in order to do a good job of judging I had to divorce the acting from the rest of the film. That sounds a little crazy but I often get so distracted by bad writing or silly storylines that it's hard to be objective about the acting. Since my only previous experience with the director's work was quite negative I was extra keyed into Ms. Portman's brilliant performance.

Ms. Portman plays Nina, a ballerina who is extremely tense, driven and locked down, coiled tight. She's jumpy about her body and doesn't like being touched, which is kind of weird for a profession where your body is a tool that is touched frequently during the work day. (I have some thoughts on this, which I will address in a moment.) She's in a professional troupe and makes her living dancing, so already at the top of her game, but badly wants to land the lead in an upcoming revamped production of Swan Lake. Beth, the prima ballerina, played brilliantly by Winona Ryder, would normally take the role but she is about to go into a forced retirement, leaving the part up for grabs.

Thomas, the super creepy director, played by Vincent Cassel, tells Nina she can play half of the dual role – the virginal frightened half of course – but not the dark, seductive half. Then he grabs her and kisses in a violent, degrading way, totally violating the employer/employee relationship, and when she reacts by biting the crap out of him he decides she's passionate enough to play the swan queen. How gross is that? She fights back against an assault and that means she's a passionate artist? Excuse me while I throw up. Also, where is her union? Why is she not protected? I know - it's because this entire movie is some twisted fantasy. Anyway, Nina is terrified of not doing well enough to keep the part and the director does everything in his power to encourage her insecurity.

It doesn't help when new girl Lily, played fabulously by Mila Kunis, blows into town. (She reminded me of Faith the vampire slayer, one of my favorite characters from Buffy and Angel.) Not only is she new, which makes her automatically interesting, she's bouncy, sexy and outgoing – all things Nina is afraid she isn't. Nina's pressure goes from the yellow zone all the way to the tip top of the red zone. She's also under fire from her super creepy, controlling mother, (Barbara Hershey) who has mood swings that make her seem less stable than nitroglycerin in the noonday sun.

How creepy is Nina's mother? Creepy enough that I wondered if she were real. I thought she could be a ghost, a hallucination, a splintered part of Nina's own personality or an actual flesh and blood mother. She's so bad that the last choice might be the worst choice. There are other elements in the film that could show that Nina is being haunted or is losing her grip on reality. You may have seen some of them in the trailer. I don't want to get into details because I hate spoilers but overall the atmosphere of Black Swan reminded me of a play I did when I was younger; Angel Street, which is the theater version of the film Gaslight.

I never did figure out who was alive, who was real and who or what was a figment of Nina's imagination. Maybe I'm just dumb, or exhausted or maybe the movie's pretty good at leaving a lot of questions unanswered. So if you see this film, let me know what you think.

By the way, if I had written this story, or was directing it, I would totally have made Nina turn into a swan and fly away at the end. That would have been awesome. (I'm not saying this didn't happen in the movie. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn't. I'm just saying that's what I would have had happen, without trying to give away any spoilers.)

You can watch the trailer here and see how amazing Ms. Portman looks with orange eyes. I predict there will be quite a few black swans running around this coming Halloween.
http://www.foxsearchlight.com/blackswan/

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Sammy J. who wrote in to say, "Perfect Couples puts the fun back in funny." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.