O Blackest Of Swans

not mutually exclusive

Black Swan came out almost two months ago, so I have to assume if you were going to see it, you’d have seen it.  It feels a little silly doing a review this far after the release, but I’d mainly just like to get a dialogue going.  I feel like this movie warrants discussion, and I want a few outside opinions for a variety of reasons. 

First of all, I was extremely hung over when I saw it.  And whats worse, I hadn’t eaten anything other than an apple that day.  My stomach really goes haywire these days if I don’t eat a decent breakfast.  In high school and college I never ate breakfast.  Even my first few years in the real world* I’d often go without.  Now the second my stomach is empty it becomes a crippling malady.  I’m confused by this change.  It’s unsettling. 

*You know, working for my uncle, spooney sales, medical studies.  The real world. 

The combination of my hangover, an empty stomach, and the fact that I’m grossed out easily (except by violence) really worked against me on this one.  I had a tough time with several scenes.  The finger-cutting and toe-stubbing in particular.  Matty no likey.  And the fact that I was oobie doobie ensured I’d be thinking too much about the scenes that disturbed me.  All in all, it was a pretty miserable theater experience.  That definitely affected my impression of the movie.  I kept telling myself not to let it alter my opinion of the film, but how could it not?  We see movies to have a good time, after all.

Another factor was my companion on this hang, who swore she had the movie totally figured out afterwards, and filled my addled brain with what may have been nonsense.  She said the entire movie was about mind control.  I’m not sure how accurate that is. 

What was this movie really about?  I have a feeling when asked that question Darren Aranofsky takes shelter in that land of mysteries directors love so well.  Vague answers, winks, proliferation of theories.  When a director treads that path I’m left to assume its a VERY calculated move.  I simply can’t believe a good director would make a movie without knowing precisely what he/she wants to say.  Is that cynical?  Should I stop trying to define art?  Don’t answer that.  It was a stupid question.

I’m tempted to say this film was overrated, but I don’t want to be that guy.  If a movie these days even hints at originality I try to award points for that.  Black Swan is definitely original.  I’ve never seen anything else remotely similar.  And there is definitely something to be said for a movie about ballet that can appeal to male viewers.  To take a decidedly feminine topic and make a gender neutral movie is no small feat. 

One problem: Dreams, visions, and any type of false reality always strikes me as a bit of an easy way out.  I want a director to be held accountable for each scene and its impact on the viewer.  What Arrenofsky has essentially done is give himself carte blanch to use any startling image or event without being tied to its effect on a real plot.  Because that part of the plot isn’t real.  That feels cheap to me.  Dream sequences and hallucinations almost always do.

I can’t say I loved the casting, either.  Not bad necessarily, but inconsistent.  Look, I’ve got nothing against Mila Kunis personally, but I’m just not ready to take her seriously as an actress.  And I’m definitely inclined to root against someone who became an “it” girl (or boy) without actually doing anything good.  Her success screams “I hired the most aggressive agent and publicist I could find and told them I was willing to do anything to be famous.”  This is a snap-judgement.  But seriously, the girl from That 70s Show in a potential oscar winner?  How did that happen?  What has she ever done well?  They really should’ve stuck with the original plan and gone with Latifah here. 

I’m also pretty sure Winona Ryder is a bad actress, while we’re on the subject.  In fact, at times I’ve found her downright terrible.  This wasn’t her worst effort, but she was an odd choice, to say the least. 

Portman, on the other hand, definitely belongs in movies of this caliber.  She’s very good, we all know that.  And she definitely did a perfect job evincing sheltered, timid and alone.  The viewer has no choice but to pity her almost right from the start.  The stuff with her mom in particular was great.  That was just an excellent character.  Virtually all of my favorite scenes included her in some way (masturbation scene!).  I felt like an entire movie could’ve been made just out of that relationship.  Barbara Hershey is due a major tip-of-the-cap here.  As is Vincent Cassel for his portrayal of Thomas, predatory choreographer extraordinaire.  This truly was the part his face was born to play.  

I’m awarding Black Swan points for plot, aesthetic, and suspense.  But I still can’t shake the feeling that this film is riding a wave of praise it didn’t really earn.  Am I off base here?  Let’s talk about it.  I realize this review is poorly written and irrelevant, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a discussion. 

What think you?

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7 Comments

Filed under Decent Movies

7 responses to “O Blackest Of Swans

  1. So this is your Inception?

    I’m supposed to see Black Swan tomorrow, but I’ve said this at least four times already, and it still hasn’t happened.

    • Big Hatt

      I had sort of resigned myself to not seeing it until a friend pushed the issue. In the end, I’m glad I did, if only to increase my “relevant movies reviewed” portfolio. And it was interesting, I’ll give it that. In the right mood I might’ve enjoyed it.

      I may not have particularly liked it, but I don’t have the same vitriol for Black Swan that you have for Inception. Which, incidentally, I thought was awesome.

  2. Some valid points. Keep writing, your moxy more than makes up for your lack of talent.

  3. I liked the Swan. I get what you are saying about the “dreams, alternate reality” cop out. Too many writers these days think they can just erase any inconsistencies in their films by saying it was just all a dream. It’s lazy writing.

    That being said, I felt like I got an answer from this film so that aspect didn’t bother me too much. I’m also with you on the 70’s show chick. Yawn.

    At least this was better than that steaming pile of crap The Town. Talk about lazy, cliche ridden writing. The end of that movie is a total rip off of Shawshank Redemption.

    • Big Hatt

      The ending to The Town really was pretty embarrassing. Affleck standing in that beach hut, wind in his hair, sun setting. Give me a break. I actually sort of enjoyed the movie as a whole though. I like Renner…..and Affleck.

      I am OK with just about any filmmaking tactic if I feel like I get a legitimate answer eventually. I’ve heard plenty of people say they thought Donnie Darko was unintelligible, but I forgave its ridiculous tactics because I felt like I understood it all in the end. If I felt the same way about this one I probably would’ve liked it more. Unfortunately I left the theater pretty bewildered.

  4. 1. All movies are about mind control. Also, The Matrix is real. This guy told me.

    2. You are correct: Mila Kunis is not good (nor is Winona Ryder, at least here). But that plays into the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy established by the director (i.e., both the surrogate director character played by Vincent Cassel and Aronofsky himself), wherein Natalie Portman’s Apollonian perfectionism makes her well-suited for the White Swan role and inversely ill-suited for the Black Swan role. Mila Kunis’ less than stellar acting/dancing is inextricably bound up with her chthonic sensuality: both are part of the Dionysian aesthetic that is required to play the role of—or, quite literally, to embody—the Black Swan. (Note that, as Natalie Portman gravitates more toward the Dionysian Black Swan pole, her Apollonian precision falters—e.g., when she falls during the big performance.)

    3. In my estimation, the hype surrounding Black Swan is justified. People have decried the plot, and you mention the dream sequences and general phantasmagoria, but I think those complaints don’t take into account the goal Aronofsky seems to be working toward. Plots in opera are trite; ballets rely on dream sequences. Black Swan uses its source material to great effect, and as a result there’s an operatic sweep to it that would be unthinkable (and incredible) in most films.

    4. For a similar project, see A Double Life (co-written by Ruth Gordon—aka Maude, of Harold and Maude). It’s about an actor playing Othello (spoiler alert—it does not end well).

    • Big Hatt

      “The Matrix is real. This guy told me.” -that made me laugh. As did “spoiler alert: it does not end well.”

      Appolonian? Dionysian? You really are an arrogant son of a bitch, Bob.

      #3 is an interesting take. I wonder if Aronofsky had that in mind. Something tells me he’ll never tell.

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