Re:View – ‘Black Swan’

The Arts

Yes, this psychological-horror ballet drama is being talked about as an Oscar winner. Natalie Portman is incredible in it. The ‘You Are There’ camerawork which physically hurls you into a production of Swan Lake is immersive. And I thought it was ludicrous.

Darren Aronofsky is a director committed to actors’ vehicles, and this is virtually a one-woman show, with the emotionally frozen Portman shuttling between the flat she shares with her possessive, clinging mother (Barbara Hershey, channeling Piper Laurie in ‘Carrie’) and her brutal regime of ballet rehearsals, presided over by svengali-esque Vincent Cassel, who is required to outline the plot of Swan Lake to his professional ballet company in his opening speech and occasionally lunge his lips at ballerinas. He’s French, you see.

Portman’s playing the lead, but can’t find the Black Swan within herself to bring out passion. There’s no denying her astonishing commitment to the role, but apart from the dancing (of which there is an awful lot) she’s required to furrow her eyebrows and whine in a one-note performance that runs on the spot as Aronofsky throws ever-more lurid and gory hallucinations at her (including raunchy sex scenes).

Cassel tells her he’s staging an innovative Swan Lake, but what we see is a rather kitsch traditional touring production. Portman tears off strips of her skin, has sex with and kills her rival, but it’s all in her head. Or is it? ‘Black Swan’ wants to be ‘The Music Teacher’, but subtlety is thrown out of the window very early on, and this airless psychodrama plays out like the love child of David Cronenberg and Ken Russell, hammered home repeatedly by the overuse of the Swan Lake score.

5 comments on “Re:View – ‘Black Swan’”

  1. Brian says:

    So you didn’t like it then?

  2. FabienneT says:

    I went to see it yesterday. And I remembered that you didn’t like it, so I am coming back here. I am no cinema specialist and I have quite a simplistic approach to art, literature, music and the like: I react to it (I am looking for a physical reaction here, knot in the throat, goosebumps, hair rising, tightened fists…)and I like it, love it, adore it, or I don’t.

    I personally had a very strong reaction to this movie. It might be clumsy in terms of cinematic technique, I wouldn’t know myself.
    OK, so I used to be a little ballet dancer (ballet school up to the age of 13, nothing big) and I used to love this environment, but it’s not about nostalgia here.
    For me, this movie goes beyond the ballet world.

    There are issues in there that, I think, might be difficult to understand if you haven’t had them yourself: the battle with your body and control of your body – nothing to do with the appearance of your body, it is more complicated than that), the twisted, difficult sexuality and the terror and confusion it can induce, the fact that dance/exercise, self-harming are sometimes the only way to feel human and alive, the awareness of your body as a machine, the mental fight against yourself, the paranoia, the obsessive search for perfection (not physical but in what you do)…

    What you say about Natalie’s performance “she’s required to furrow her eyebrows and whine in a one-note performance”: well, that’s the point. When you are dealing with those issues, it’s all in your head, the battle in from within, it is very personal, selfish, self-centred. I thought she actually did it really well. I could see what was happening in her mind and it scared me. It’s a very personal thing…

    It is the first time I see those topics done this way, in a “mainstream” movie (although I fear most people would go and see the movie for all the wrong reasons…)

    Just wanted to add something to your review… Apologies for the waffling… 🙂

  3. admin says:

    Don’t worry, you’re not waffling, this is very interesting. I wanted to try and see what others see in the film, and you’ve given me an insight into its appeal. I think I have an inbuilt thing against the ‘tortured artist’ syndrome mainly because although I’m a creative and productive writer, I have never experienced any of these feelings about what I do. I just like my job, which is boring and doesn’t make for so rich an exploration…

  4. Jim says:

    My girlfriend, mum and I went to see this film last week. I tried to avoid it (knowing it was about ballet etc) but I was very very pleasently surprised. The acting was superb and Natalie Portman really dedicated herself to the role and it payed off. I found many parts confusing, not in a Inception kind of way though! The feeling when the Black Swan danced was amazing. I was engrossed and I felt so proud of the character despite the things she’d ‘done’. I was very pleased and thouroughly enjoyed the ballet parts(I never thought Id say those words!). My mother and Mrs were not too impressed in the end, the shall I say ‘rude parts’ did not settle well with them. I felt that this was all part and parcel with discovering the Black Swan within. Many mixed reviews from my friends and family because we all had a differnet interpretation.

    I intend to see Swan Lake at the theatre now. I was really THAT impressed.

    I’ll probaly have to watch the Kings Speech next and I really can’t stand anything to do with the monarch, but I said the same about ballet so here goes…..

  5. meganh says:

    I didn’t go to see it at the cinema but saw it on DVD at home it instantly gripped me and am 100% hooked on it the ballet was something that I did as a child but never really toke off with it but portmans portrayal of both black and white swan had me glued to the TV screen very exciting and I loved every minute of it

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