Romy Shiller

Black Swan

In 3rd Wave Feminism, Film, review on August 25, 2011 at 10:39 am

Competition is a sin. – John D. Rockefeller

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz
Stars: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel

I imagined that I was the only person on earth ambivalent about Black Swan. However, when I told the movie-watcher with me that I thought the film was a cliché, she agreed. I was so surprised.

 Plot: Black Swan is a 2010 American psychological thriller film directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel. Thomas Leroy (Cassel) is the director of a New York City ballet production of Swan Lake, in which he has cast Nina Sayers (Portman) as the Swan Queen and Lily (Kunis) as her alternate. The role requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly, while Lily is the ideal personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina grows more in touch with her dark side, with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.

I think that this film could have really pushed the envelope. It was already surreal but it wanted to be Dali-esque. It was conservative actually. Yeah, yeah, our lead (Natalie Portman as Nina) is frigid and crazy. Seen it, sorry. Her hallucinations are nightmarish? A psychological thriller?

Nina is obsessive and scratches herself where wings would be. She is cast as the lead ballerina in a dual role of white and black swan. She has trouble portraying the black swan but the darkness inside her is symbolized by a dark feather she plucks out of her skin. Yawn. She usually wears white to align her with the white swan. Her white scarf is feathered. Nice attention to detail but kind of obvious. This film takes itself seriously and is very committed to something. The hype…

Remember when Liveforfilms wasn’t impressed with Inception, well I’m not impressed with Black Swan. Because of that review, I feel like I was given permission to go against the grain.

No, I’m not ambivalent in the least. I absolutely do not believe that this film deserves acclaim. Sorry, but I kept thinking that I could have written a paper about it in high-school. If I were a teacher and needed a clear example of symbolism, I’d use this film. There was little mystery or intrigue here for me.

Okay, we’re going to talk about Natalie Portman’s character Nina. There is no question in my mind that Natalie Portman is a very good actor. There was only so much one could do with the character Nina. Nina had no arc, no development – she was the same from beginning to end. Also, I had little empathy for the character. This character required empathy – believe me! So, the character was flawed not the actor.

A review I came across says, “Darren Aronofsky is a master at making beautiful films you never want to see again. Part of this has to do with the inherently unpleasant nature of the obsessions and addictions he chronicles: the heroin chase of Requiem for a Dream, the eon-spanning pursuit of doomed love in The Fountain, the thirst for a dying fame in The Wrestler… The director’s earlier works are difficult to watch (let alone revisit) for the powerful emotional toll they exact on the viewer, but Black Swan earns the same fate for a far less satisfying reason: it’s just not worth it.” This is a film that I would not see again.

So, we’re dealing with a director who has made great films. It is hard not to give him the benefit of doubt here. His themes of obsession and addiction were prominent but they were lacking in my opinion. Portman says, “…it was absolutely a case of obsessive compulsive behavior. The scratching. The bulimia, obviously. Anorexia and bulimia are forms of OCD and ballet really lends itself to that because there’s such a sense of ritual — the wrapping of the shoes everyday and the preparing of new shoes for every performance.” It isn’t that Nina didn’t wrestle with her darkness it was just predictable to me and kind of flat. She was as intense as she could be.

Also, the virgin/whore duality has been done a lot and has been around for AGES. “Swan Lake is a classic ballet exploring light and dark, good and evil personified in white and black swan characters.” How unoriginal.

Darren Aronofsky said this at a recent screening of the film and it MAY have been directed to an elderly couple, “I’m really sorry. I want to apologize for what’s about to happen… I didn’t know what I was doing…” Okay.

This film will win awards and was nominated for a Golden Globe award – Best Motion Picture – Drama.

It should not win.

Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online.

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