Black Swan (2011)

[This was first published at BlogCritics]

Word of mouth has it that the recently released (in Finland, that is) Darren Aronofsky film Black Swan is terribly creepy and suspenseful; a horror flick. This was pretty much everything I knew of the film beforehand, and, honestly, I wasn’t all that interested. Black Swan tells a story of a ballerina, Nina, who craves the queen role of the white swan in the famous Swan Lake ballet. Nina is the very epitome of the fragile white swan. Her obstacle to secure the role is her inability to portray the dark passion required for the second part of the role – the treacherous black swan. As Nina struggles to come to terms with the demanding double role, adapting to the part of the black swan threatens to destroy her own personality.

Natalie Portman is very pretty. She plays a squeaky clean perfectionist ballerina to a perfection (though I admit I can’t tell a good dancer from a bad one). Portman, with her porcelain doll face, is right at home in a role of the clinically clean character, Nina, so her transformation to the black swan is just as dichotomous as the transformation of the character. Casting Mila Kunis in the role of Nina’s imagined antagonist, Lily, is a stroke of genius. Kunis has just the passionate tomboy aura to contrast Portman’s innocence, and if her figure doesn’t exactly match the idea of a professional ballet dancer, she more than makes up for it with sheer boldness and attitude. Barbara Hershey puts forth an outstanding performance as Nina’s dedicated, overzealous mother.

I did not enjoy Black Swan all that much. I had expected to see a scary film and since that failed, the rest of the story didn’t carry my interest through the rest. About halfway through the film I was bored. Perhaps the fault can be partly pointed at the protagonist’s bland character – which probably means Natalie Portman did a good job – but the fact is the viewer doesn’t really get a good feel of Nina, her motivation, or her feelings. If you’re inclined to pay attention to such things, you might make a note that she is very repressed at home, but – again – not enough to really give a damn. Nina’s slide to a mental breakdown is beautifully depicted but, at some point, I just stopped believing. I wouldn’t have been able to sit through a longer version of the film, but the build-up of the story was so slow and subtle that the last destructive spiral seemed to happen way too fast. My thoughts were along the lines of “Nina seems a little bit disturbed, whoa hey what did she just stab someone?” I can’t decide if the fault is with the story, the director or the editor.

However, the cinematography is cleverly doing a double job as hiding what I presume to be Portman’s less-than-perfect ballet skills, while gently steering the viewer into the increasingly confused mind of Nina Sayers. Otherwise the visual look and feel of the film was pretty much invisible; neither disturbingly bad or notably wonderful. I felt that the film had such potential to be a truly frightening experience, but somehow the horror-ball was dropped and the film just failed to impress. The few scenes visualising Nina’s delusions were the best Black Swan had to offer, and though I hate to encourage toward stereotyping, I think the film would have greatly benefited from more of the same.

Since I was bored through large parts of the film, I may be biased – but I felt the last five minutes were the best Black Swan had to offer. I finally believed both the black swan and the white and the element of fantasy simply worked for me. Swan Lake turned danse macabre could only end one way, and if it is a cliché, so what?

PS: It wasn’t that bad. The longer it is since I saw Black Swan, the more OK it seems.


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April 2011
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