Friday, 21 January 2011

The One Where Black Swan Divides Opinions

Romy Shiller writes great movie reviews. Her most recent was Black Swan. I've included it below, so you can see what inspired my review. Enjoy.

First, though... my take:

The One Where I Heart Black Swan, And Hope You Do Too.

Black Swan is one of those films that I shouldn’t really like.

For a start, everyone (bar the brave Romy Shiller), seem to have fallen for it. If it’s not a five star film, it’s a four star in most reviews. I haven’t seen many people fall too far in the middle.

Me? I loved it.

And I don’t say, “love” like I normally do. I mean true love. Maybe even love at first sight.

Part of that is with Natalie Portman. She’s incredible here. Vulnerable. Trapped in a life we come to realize she hasn’t actually chosen.  Brilliant.

Clichéd, too. Romy isn’t wrong there. This part of the film is nothing we haven’t seen before. The film does have missteps. Winona Ryder is one of them. Almost turning up just to have an iconic moment later on, where she reinvents the wheel when it comes to nail files. (That, plus James Franco severing his nerves, have given me more winces in the Cinema already than I had in 2010) It was only when I looked away that I realized how engrossed I had become.

I think part of the reason I was sucked in was the setting. It took me right back to the first time I saw Susperia. There is something creepy, and unnerving about a dance school. Especially when the lights go out, when you’re still practicing. (And getting it wrong, wrong, wrong).

Darren Aronofsky is fast becoming one of my favorite Directors too. How people can say he “is a master of making beautiful films you don’t want to see again”, is beyond me. This isn’t the first time he’s done pretentious. But I loved The Fountain, too. The more I think about it, it’s for similar reasons. I get that people wouldn’t want to watch Requiem For A Dream every Sunday, but films like that exist for a reason.

The final fifteen minutes of this film go far further than I thought they would. Whether what we are seeing is actually happening of course is for another discussion. Aronofsky blurs the lines so much, that it’s never clear. Did that scene ever even happen? Maybe. Maybe not. There is more than a little fantasy at play here. 

The way he pushes the final fifteen though is why I’ll always return to this film. I see it as a perfect double bill with The Fly.

Believe me, that comparison is not as stretched as it seems. You know from the trailer there are suggestions of a transformation. You know that Natalie Portman can’t get the role of the black swan, right. She’s frigid. She’s a little bit inexperienced. Maybe even a little boring. Clichés, for sure, in any other context. Here? Here it works brilliantly. Nina is forced to look at her lifestyle, and that home life, and re-assess whether there are elements holding her back.

She scratches where those wings should be, because it’s niggling away at her. Her Mum knows this, but still tries to hold her back. Tries to control her. So we have a coming of age drama, too.

Nina is growing up, experimenting, wanting perfection. All of the things most people do when growing up. Aronofsky is pushing those boundaries all of the time, though. 

I’m disappointed to read that groups of lads are going to see it just for the Portman/Kunis scene. What I love about Aronofsky is he has fun with this. Anyone hoping to get a cheap thrill from that scene will be disappointed. There is at least two jump scares within it, and not in your typical noughties horror remake kind of way. We are talking images you might not be able to shake. Characters turning into other characters. Maybe even meaning that at times a character is talking to themselves. You will either buy that or not. For me, it was up there with David Lynch getting people to call themselves at their own home… and speak with themselves.

I think the point is, if you had seen the trailer, chances are you’ll know whether you’re in, or out.

I just hope you’re in.

I hope that Black Swan makes a ton of money, and means Aronofsky can carry on making whatever films he likes. Then maybe, one day, he can come back and do a sequel. Because that I would LOVE to see.

Black Swan was nominated for Best Movie, at the Golden Globes. It did not win.
Just another of lifes little tragedies…

I just wanted to stress that I love Romy’s reviews, especially her take on Black Swan. The analogy of Phil not liking Inception was spot on. He was wrong too, obviously, but how boring would the world be if we all agreed

Now Romy is here with her take...

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.
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.
Twitter: RomyShiller
If you wish to contact Romy Shiller, feel free to email her at
Check out another review of Black Swan with a different viewpoint on the film.

Check out more reviews on Live For Films. Or just watch sweet, sweet Natalie Portman say fuck a lot, HERE.

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