I finally got to see Black Swan on Thursday evening. Every seat in the theatre was full, everyone ready to see the movie that has taken critics, award-giving committees and audiences alike by storm for weeks, although it’s taken its time making it to the UK screens.
The plot here is the plot of Swan Lake and so it needs little retelling. Suffice to say, Natalie Portman (the white swan – Nina) replaces Beth (a smartly cast Winona Ryder) as the ‘little princess’ of director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) as he begins his new production of Swan Lake. But the question remains of whether the crystal beautiful Nina can be herself enough to also breathe life into the white swan’s nemesis, the black swan, or whether that role should go to Lily (Mila Kunis), another kind of ballerina altogether.
I was a little nonplussed by this film, I’ll be honest. I’ve read more Victorian melodrama than is healthy and Black Swan did an excellent job of re-immersing me in a theatrical world of trick mirrors, rose red blood, wicked hags in the attic and immoral seducers in the bedroom (or at least on the chaise longue). As Nina’s obsession develops, even her skin reacts, resulting in some of the most fascinating special effects I’ve seen in a film. But just as her skin distorts, so does Nina’s mind and we are dragged in with her and must endure one of the most horrendous film mothers (Barbara Hershey).
The look of the film is mesmerising, as is the performance of Natalie Portman. At last a role that fulfils her promise and helps one to overlook certain intergalactic stellar errors. A lost virgin, who still steals from other dancers, and will do whatever it takes to keep the white swan crown. And through it all, everywhere Nina turns, there is Lily, desired and hated. But where does the ‘real world’, such as it ever exists in Black Swan, end and the drama being played out in Nina’s head begin? At times, it almost feels like the camera is attached to Nina, as we follow her less than a step behind.
Acting, cinematography, direction (a supremely confident Darren Aronofsky), music, costume – all stunning. And yet, while my mind was engaged and questioning, the rest of me was left untouched and I felt no emotional investment in the drama. I’m laughably easy to frighten at the movies but to the Black Swan I didn’t flinch once. There was nothing likeable about Nina or anyone else in the story. The main characters were like painted dolls and ogres, or monsters and big-eyed victims extracted from Dickens, Collins or the Brontes.
Melodrama inevitably amuses and the soldout theatre where I saw this laughed regularly, particularly in scenes featuring the Svengali Leroy. I didn’t laugh once. At the end I asked the young lady next to me, a stranger, who had laughed with the rest, what she thought of it. She told me she loved it before going on to say that the film could produce the same effect as marmite. Considering that I thought Black Swan stunning but wasn’t sure I liked it, she could be right.
The real horror of Black Swan for me was the world of dancing it portrayed, where, at least in Nina’s case, to throw up is a regular, non-eventful occurrence. The punishment that Natalie Portman’s body took for this role is painfully evident and, to me, appears brutal. Black Swan shows what dancers can do to distort their limbs and body shape and it did absolutely nothing to dispel my general dislike of feet…
I’m extremely glad I saw Black Swan. I’m also thankful that I saw it during such an atmospheric, full screening. Without that charged atmosphere, and the buzz of the audience, I doubt the film would have had half of the appeal I managed to take from it.
Do read Rob’s review over at X&HT for a completely different take on a film that doesn’t half make you think.