Black Swan (Dir. Darren Aronofsky – 2010)

Posted: 05/26/2011 in films
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I really did not enjoy ‘Black Swan‘; in fact I will go as far as to say that I do not understand how it got nominated for so many awards (actually I do and that makes me depressed so I feign ignorance), and I am guessing that Natalie Portman won for her sheer hard work at transforming herself into a ballet dancer. She was probably so distracted by all the choreography that she didn’t notice the lackluster script and plot (shame I didn’t have that option). The scuttlebutt that I’d heard about the film was that you think you are going to watch a ballet drama but actually it’s a scary, psychological thriller. Ha! In reality it is neither. It doesn’t push the boundaries enough as a drama nor was it in the least bit scary.’Splice‘ was a much better film (slick plot, character development and it left you shaking whereas ‘Black Swan’ left me yawning), and dare I say Sarah Polley much more deserving of Best Actress nods in this instance.

In a nutshell it’s a re-interpretation of Swan Lake as a ballet-within-a-ballet. Nina (Portman) is a serious ballerina in a New York company who is given the opportunity to dance the lead in Swan Lake however her general East coast up-tightness means that she can dance the White Swan with her eyes closed but she must tap into her “dark-side” to dance the Black Swan. It’s this journey to unlock her “darkness” that forces her to explore the duality of her own identity**. Along the way she has to break away from over bearing mother, flirts with bad girl ballerina Lily (we know she is a free spirit because she has a big back tattoo and has joined the company from San Francisco *wink wink*) and has a run in with the soon-to-be retired principal ballerina (Winona Ryder) of the company. (Note: if you enjoyed Ryder’s throw away cameo in Star Trek then you’ll love her even more disposable cameo here. It’s a lazy, and less enjoyable, hybrid of Miss Haversham and ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’.)

The characters are cookie-cutter stereotypes, and there seems to be a general fearfulness to cross over too much into the “dark side”. Sure there are some neat special effects that make you think Nina is loosing her mind but they always pull back at the last moment. I was hoping for a full-on Ovid-style metamorphosis.  I’m left wondering if it was a conscious decision to not go too fairy tale otherwise the film would miss out on awards buzz as genre movies generally do (*cough cough* Splice).  I did like the costumes (I’ve a weak spot for arm and leg warmers), and the behind-the-scenes ballet details like the ripping apart of the ballet pumps, etc. But, overall it was a lackluster film that couldn’t make up it’s mind if it was an art house European or a misogynistic Japanese fright fest, and all the plies in the world could not save it.

**The Irish film ‘The Tiger’s Tail‘ is a much better exploration of doppelgangers and identity (and scarier to boot).

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