Lately I’ve been pushing my own film watching boundaries to a little closer to their limits. I’ve been trying to watch more and more films that I was initially afraid to see. This is probably pretty pathetic, but I prepare for them. I read reviews and the Wikipedia synopsis. I look into any possible source material or similar films. I dance (pun completely intended) around the film for months and possibly years, putting it off and putting it off, until finally the right moment comes along when I cannot possibly ignore the film any longer. When I walked into the library and my dancer roommate pointed out Black Swan, I realized that after almost two years, the time was ripe.
When I first saw the trailer for Black Swan, I really wanted to see it, but I was way too scared. So since then I have been preparing. In preparation for Black Swan, I read a couple reviews and blog posts, the Wikipedia article, watched The Red Shoes, and read Dostoyevsky’s The Double. None of them are as frightening as the film itself. Not even close.
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina. Ballet is practically her entire life, and she is insanely dedicated. Even though she is an excellent dancer, she focuses so intensely on the technical aspects of dance that she can’t really feel it. Despite this shortcoming, she lands both the parts of the White Swan and the Black Swan for their company’s new production of Swan Lake. The White Swan is the part that Nina has no trouble with, she has been as controlled and innocent as the White Swan for her entire life. She does not know how to behave any way else, or maybe is just too afraid to. The pressure of being “perfect” keeps building up until Nina cracks.
Nina may be afraid to alter her behavior, but she’s even more afraid of failing in her big debut. So the behavioral reprogramming begins. Even at the beginning it seems that Nina has always had a darker side to her, but she keeps it buried very deep down. The director (Vincent Cassel) takes many many opportunities to reinforce Nina’s self repression in very awkward ways which I think could technically be called sexual harassment. Apparently he does this to everybody. He freaked me out, not gonna lie (well there was barely anything in this movie that didn’t freak me out, but still). Not helping matters is Nina’s mother, (Barbara Hershey) who was a ballet dancer herself and had to give up her career to have Nina. Nina still lives with her (though I don’t think her age is specified I’m guessing early to mid twenties) and her mom basically still treats her like a child. Her mother is clearly a source of Nina’s repression.
Perhaps the most threatening character is Lily (Mila Kunis). While she doesn’t really do anything malevolent on purpose, that is generally the effect because Nina sees it as such. Lily is the Black Swan, and I don’t mean that she plays the Black Swan or anything like that, I just mean that she embodies those qualities. She is able to lose herself while dancing, and she has a life outside of ballet, and these are both qualities that Nina needs, wants, and doesn’t have. So as she grows more and more insane, she fixates on Lily more and more. She becomes paranoid and believes that Lily is trying to undermine her career, when really the malevolence she attributes to Lily is the darker side of herself taking over.
One thing that I particularly noticed about this film was the color scheme. The color scheme was so depressing, it really was. The reason is there was hardly any color at all, just white, black, various shades of gray, and pink that was so pale it looked like white. Her mom’s room was green, but only frightening things happened in there and it didn’t last very long. There were no trees, grass, sunshine, or any outdoor scenes that looked like they were outdoors. (She went outside when she was walking back home but because it’s in New York City there wasn’t a lot of nature, just buildings). I felt that this really helped the film, because the most important thing in this movie was how Nina was feeling and how she was seeing everything. She sees everything in terms of black and white (as in the two swans that she has to play) and the lack of nature shows how much she is living in a fabricated world.
Even though I was initially afraid to see this film, I’m glad I finally did. I probably will not see it again because it did disturb me quite a lot, but I don’t think that’s really a problem. This movie is pretty clear; it’s not a movie you need to see more than once to get the point (but maybe I only think that because I knew the point already). What multiple watchings would give (I think), would maybe be more ways that the film makes its point. This seems to be a film that triumphs in making its point, rather than the point itself. Yep, Nina’s going crazy, anyone can tell that. Anyone can also tell that she is way too focused on ballet. The puzzle of this film is how each individual hallucination shows this. If I really needed to find that out; I’d watch it again, but I don’t think I want to go there.
“Was I good?”
Long story short: 4/4 stars
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