Monday, December 20, 2010

BLACK SWAN: Can Aronofsky Shine Oscar Light To The Forgotten Genre?

I've mentioned on DotW before that I've never been one to enjoy posting reviews (as I find them to be repetitive after a while) on my personally run blog, but sometimes a film comes along that deserves its page in the spotlight. A week or so ago I mentioned my desire to see the ballet thriller Black Swan. Well, I've seen the film and putting together words even somewhat worthy to describe this film is going to be extremely difficult.
Darren Aronofsky has recently garnered the utmost respect of thriller/psychological/horror cinephiles everywhere with his masterpiece Black Swan.  This film, which was arguably the most highly anticipated film of the year, was finally released to the public and welcomed with an overabundance of positive reviews.  I waited (in vain) to finally give my mind a sensation that hadn't been experienced since 2008.  Let me tell you...it was well worth the wait.  Not since Let The Right One In has a film been able to draw me in to the magnitude that Black Swan has.  Strangely enough, the two most powerful films I've seen in the past 10 years are both films that dabble in the horror genre.  Aronofsky is no stranger to creating films that fester within the very depths of the psyche, but Black Swan is in an absolute league of its own.  Last year at the Oscars, the Academy paid tribute to the horror genre and even admitted to looking past some of the greatest cinematic masterpieces simply because they are tagged under "horror".  Sans the Twilight reference, the Academy did showcase films like Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, The Shining, JAWS, and The Silence of the Lambs, which leads me to believe they actually do share an affinity for quality films...regardless of genre.  There were plenty of films left out, sure, but the power of Black Swan is something the academy cannot ignore.  Unlike the snuffed over LTROI, Black Swan is in English, and very well may be the film to wake up the Academy to an under-appreciated sub-genre of films.
Perfectionist ballerina, Nina Sayers, is the absolute personification of every overworked ballet dancer.  Nina is timid, fragile, soft-spoken, and yet extremely dedicated.  She lives with her overbearing mother, a former ballet dancer who ended her non-existent career in place of giving birth to Nina and establishing herself as the typical "mother living her dreams through her child" persona.  Although dedicating her entire life to the art of ballet, Nina has an incredibly difficult time showcasing any sort of passion through her performances.  Concentrating solely on aesthetics, Nina has technique out of this world...but no emotion.  The dance company's upcoming season will open with “Swan Lake” and they’ll need to cast a new lead to play the Swan Queen. The role of The Swan Queen requires a dancer with the ability to transform between a dual role as both the virginal White Swan and her tauntingly seductive twin sister, the Black Swan. Nina completely embodies the White Swan flawlessly, but to pull off the Black Swan she’ll have to find a new form of perfection from within.
Coming from a film reviewer with a dance background and a 16 + year dedication to baton twirling for a world renown company, I can verify that the emotional turmoil Natalie Portman portrays as Nina Sayers is 100% on par.  Honestly, I may have found this film twice as scary as the average viewer, because I've met girls just like Nina.  Aronofsky showed the world the horrifying truth behind performance artists of all sorts, and he did it horrifically accurate.  I can personally admit to experiencing a loss of reality after throwing myself completely into a performance.  I could almost empathize with Nina with the question not if she was going to succeed in her role...but if she was going to survive it.
While Natalie Portman was the clear-cut star as Nina Sayers, I was surprisingly floored by Mila Kunis' portrayal of Lily, the Black Swan to Nina's White Swan.  Unfortunately, I have a difficult time disassociating actors from notable roles.  When it comes to Mila Kunis, I look at her and immediately picture her trying to seduce William Shatner in American Psycho 2.  I can't help it.  Every role I've seen her in after AP2, I've immediately resorted to that character.  I don't know if it was the way her character was introduced, or the incredibly intricate tattoo on her back, but I believed her character through and through.  The role of Lily isn't an easy one to play, as she is constantly the center of Nina's possible hallucinations.  Both of the women were remarkably brilliant and deserve the absolute highest honors.
Black Swan was easily the best film of 2010, and definitely one of the best films of the past ten years.  An eerily beautiful glimpse into the dangerous world of professional performers, Aronofsky's masterpiece turned the cinematic world back into one of quality filmmaking.

6 comment(s):

Emily said...

Ha! I also JUST watched American Psycho 2 about a week before Black Swan, and while I think every other Kunis movie will make me remember her dreadfully narrating her tale of murder, Black Swan was definitely the exception. I'm not in love with the film the way I hoped to be--mostly because I think the script just doesn't really rise up to the level of directing and acting--but I do think it's an extraordinary piece of work.

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

See, I was sort of disappointed. I think it's a very accomplished film. Don't get me wrong. I don't really have anything to say against it. The performances (particularly Barbara Hershey) were amazing. It came together as an almost technically perfect film, but....

I sort of think it had no heart. I just could not connect with it on an emotional level.

The thing is, this is not an area that's new to him--this kind of obsession. He covered it in The Wrestler. And while The Wrestler is technically imperfect, the film is so much more meaningful.

At first I thought it was that I can't really connect with the particular subject, but I like ballet a hell of a lot more than I like professional wrestling, so that doesn't really hold up.

The difference is this... the characters have more emotion in The Wrestler. Sure, there's a lot of fear and panic in Nina, but it rarely extends outward. (I never believed she actually stabbed Lily.)

When Randy the Ram makes a choice it ripples outward and effects people. The characters are real people with real world problems.

And this is when it becomes an issue of what I find important. I tend to be very turned off by films about first world problems. And this is a film very much about first world problems. So while I can't rightly say that there was anything "wrong with the film," I can say that it just didn't really matter to me.

Lady Ash said...

I have not anticipated seeing a film in the theater for a long time but I'm dying to see this! I loved Requiem for a Dream so I've made it a mission to see all of Darron Aronofski's films.

I was floored by the trailer to Black Swain with its psychotic beauty.

I hope that it will still be playing in theaters this weekend.

scary film review said...

the one movie i want to see this year more than anything else, and it's not playing within 100 miles of me, sadly, i need to move away from this crap town

Soiled Sinema said...

This was an incredibly moving film and I, too, am having difficulty putting my thoughts into words.

-mAQ

Michael Williams said...

There was plenty to like about the movie; stunning photography, a cast full of great performers, etc., the ending was a let down.

I would call this a dark psychological thriller, although I am curious to see what Netflix has under ballet thrillers. Is that a large genre? ;P

Seriously though, I read your review before watching and felt your description of the travails dancers face helped me understand the insular world of ballet and therefore made Natalie Portman's character easier to understand.

M

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