Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


BLACK SWAN (2010). Director: Darren Aronofsky.

This psychological thriller [or whatever you want to call it] with a ballet backdrop features all the usual elements of such movies: a dancer falling for her teacher; jealous rivalries among dancers; and so on, then adds a twist in that the lead character, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), who is dancing the role of the swan in a new production of Swan Lake, is mentally unraveling as the date of her debut in the role rapidly approaches. She begins to have strange, sometimes sexual, and often violent hallucinations. Just as the character she portrays in the ballet has a light and dark side, so does Nina, with tragic results. Portman deservedly won an Oscar for her portrayal, and she is the glue that makes the film the riveting twaddle that it is. But despite its good points -- including the fact that it is absorbing and very well acted [Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, and Winona Ryder are also excellent in important supporting roles] -- Black Swan is a bit overwrought and occasionally silly, threatening to collapse into [literal] hysterics at any moment. A girl-on-girl sex scene seems to have been thrown in for all the wrong reasons, and does nothing to delineate character. [If the implication is that this is one more indication of Nina embracing her "dark" side, it's a bit regressive, but I suppose it could also suggest she's shedding her inhibitions. But why have a gay sex scene, even a fantasy, without real gay characters? It's like the filmmakers said, "guys won't want to take their girlfriends to a film about ballet, but when they find out it has two chicks gettin' it on...!"] Ultimately, Black Swan holds the attention but its chief appeal is Portman's and the other performances. It's undeniably arresting, but doesn't hold up under close scrutiny.

Verdict: Portman and the rest of the cast deserve kudos. ***.

3 comments: said...

A very, very disturbing account of a young woman's descent into madness. Hard to watch, but so fascinatingly crafted that you can't look away. Was expecting something more like a modern/more edgy 'Turning Point'. This was a surprise. I'll never look at the ballet or dancers quite the same way again.

Dj Buddy Beaverhausen said...

As you said, "Doesn't hold up well under scrutiny." When you get to the Twilight Zone-ish ending, then go over events in your mind, it doesn't add up & I felt cheated. Winons Ryder surprised & stole the film in her small but important role, imho.

William said...

Ryder was terrific. I didn't realize that was her until the end because I guess I still think of her as a very young woman, but time marches on for all of us. {Not that she's exactly a hag, of course.] Still, a lot of people thought the picture was a masterpiece. Not quite, although it had its moments.

Thanks for your comments, Buddy!