BluRay/DVD Reviews

BLACK SWAN

By • May 10th, 2011 •

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Darren Aronofsky is not a subtle filmmaker. He is a manipulator who wants to use the art form as a means to force emotions out of the viewer. He is not ashamed to go over-the-top. This is in no way an insult to the man. Quite the contrary. Although in these doomed, boring days of mumblecore home videos masquerading as cinema, some viewers will inevitably hold it against him.

Nina (Natalie Portman), a professional ballet dancer, is cast as the lead in “Swan Lake” where she must play the dual role of the White Swan and her evil twin the Black Swan. The director (Vincent Cassel) is certain she can play White, but is still unconvinced that she can master the uninhibited seductress. Her mother (Barbara Hershey), an ex-dancer herself, puts pressure on Nina to be perfect. She treats her like a little girl, to the extent that it’s borderline incestuous. She bathes her, clips her fingernails, sleeps in her room, and has her lick cake off her finger.

Nina is stuck in the middle of a psychological tug-o-war. On one side: the director – provoking her to tap into her dark side and explore her sexuality. On the other: Her overbearing mother, who wants the “sweet girl”. Enter Lily (Mila Kunis). The new dancer in the company who might just be the friend Nina needs to keep her head on straight. Or, she could be a femme fatale, intent on stealing Nina’s role and pushing her further into madness.

One can say It’s ALL ABOUT EVE meets REPULSION on the set of THE RED SHOES with a dash of THE FLY.

…or we can call it how it is. An original.

Audiences are saying this is his companion piece to THE WRESTLER and I can see why. Both follow their central character in every scene, photographed in a semi-docu style (the same gritty 16mm film stock). Both films also deal with the physical stress these protagonists inflict on themselves for the sake of their profession.

Be that as it may, I would argue that this is more in the vein of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. Aronofsky has gone back to the grab-you-by-the-throat style that made REQUIEM so disturbing. BLACK SWAN is just as relentless, only it’s more delirious. You know it’s a downward spiral, but once it has you in its grip all you can do is hang on for the ride. BLACK SWAN doesn’t give you the free time to analyze it. Frustrating, I’m sure, to the critics who sit with their little notepads and flashlight pens (learn how to write in the dark already!). It forces you to save your opinions till after the credits. You experience it first.

While the technical aspects of the film are terrific, it would not be nearly as impressive without the power of Natalie Portman’s performance. There hasn’t been an Oscar statue so well deserved since Daniel Day Lewis in THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

Recently there has been controversy (triggered by a jealous body double) over how much dancing she really did. I honestly couldn’t care less. It’s not only the physicality of the role that earned her the accolades. It’s extremely challenging to play a role that is this innocent without coming off like Candide. Portman creates a character that is tortured, nuanced and real. In the film’s most heartbreaking moment, she calls her mother from a bathroom stall, overwhelmed and crying from happiness after the news that she was cast as the lead. We know things aren’t going to work out for her, but we really, really hope they do. It’s like CARRIE all over again.

As has come to be expected, the (white) Blu-Ray offers more supplements than the (black) DVD. Both have a behind-the-scenes doc, but the Blu-Ray features two more treats. An inside look at the ballet’s influence on the film’s costume and production design, and a discussion with Portman and Aronofsky about the progression of the project that spanned over ten years. The Blu-Ray also includes cast profiles.

An interesting thing about this film is its success with many unlikely demographics. It is macabre enough to please the horror crowd, and artsy enough to please the critics. It’s abstract without being overly ambiguous, so it doesn’t leave people scratching their heads. Males are not the target audience for a film about the ballet, but there’s an easy way to fix that problem: put a lesbian sex scene in the trailer. In the end, this had all the makings of a cult classic, but it turned out to be a crowd-pleaser instead.

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