Monday, December 06, 2010

Black magic woman

Perfection is madness. It is a never-ending, all-consuming, ultimately unattainable quest. So then to single-mindedly strive for it is, in itself, a form of insanity. And it is that madness at the center of “Black Swan.”

The film is a thing of horrifying beauty, a gorgeous nightmare set in the world of elite ballet where grace is only achieved through years of punishment. That unforgiving world is Nina Sayers’ whole life. Played in a virtuoso performance by Natalie Portman, Nina is a technically brilliant but emotionally stilted dancer with the New York ballet company who dreams of leaving the corps and becoming the prima ballerina. She gets her shot when the arrogant artistic director decides to put on a reimagined production of “Swan Lake.”

And that is when things start to get freaky. The story is a story within a story. Everything, it seems, has a mirror image. The ballet company is performing “Swan Lake,” about a good swan and her evil twin. Nina looks remarkably like the new ballerina in the corps, Lily (played with irresistible smolder by Mila Kunis), who is also her understudy. And like in “Swan Lake” where the Swan Queen is rivaled by the Black Swan, uptight Nina feels threatened by seductive Lily.

Nina is sheltered in every way – she is a slip of a woman who still lives with her overbearing, stifling mother (played with creepy abandon by Barbara Hershey) and gets tucked in to bed every night in her pink childhood room surrounded by overstuffed teddy bears. Their relationship is the very definition of toxic, and not in the fun, dance-club Britney Spears way.

It’s hard to overstate how beautiful and how powerful Natalie is in this role. Some actors inhabit their parts, she shrinks into hers – both literally and figuratively. She does most of her own dancing and much has already been made of the months of rigorous training and strict diet she underwent to prepare to become this tiny dancer. Her Nina is brittle, driven, timid and obsessed. She is transcendent and terrifying and you can’t take your eyes off her magnificent face – nor can the camera. If Natalie isn’t a lock for the Oscar, she will certainly be in a caged death match with Annette Bening for the trophy come February.

In a way, “Black Swan” is the perfect female companion piece to director Darren Aronofsky’s last picture, “The Wrestler.” Both are about bone-crushing physicality and living solely for one’s art. But “Black Swan” takes the fetishism of ritual, discipline and pain to new heights. Nails split, toes crack – even a hangnail is not just a hangnail.

What is real, what isn’t real, what is a phantasmagorical paranoid lesbian fever dream? The experience is intense and trippy and gory and sexy and crazy and beautiful and painful, all at once. But mostly, just really fucking intense.

Things become unhinged in the best possible way. The movie is grandiose and overblown, preposterous and campy. Parts are even a little cliché. But it’s those very imperfections that make “Black Swan” so viscerally exciting. Like a dancer spinning precariously on point, the movie teeters on the edge of disaster.

But let’s get to why you’re really here. How was the sex between Natalie and Mila? Short version: Hot. Long version: Really hot. Seriously, even if the film wasn’t great – which is it – that scene alone is worth the ticket. Once this comes out on DVD I predict much rewinding, so much so that there might be a slight skip at one particular point on the disc. Have I mentioned that it’s hot?

Taut, claustrophobic, intimate, alive, the film crackles with manic energy. This is a movie that reminds me why I love the movies. To sit in the dark for two hours and become completely absorbed by a story is a sort of black magic. And when the spell is cast as bewitchingly as it is in “Black Swan,” you’re more than happy to fall under its exquisite madness.

UPDATE: To see when “Black Swan” is coming to a theater near you, check out the upcoming rollout dates. Then go see for yourself how everything is terrifyingly beautiful at the ballet.


Dawn said...

Honey, when this comes out on dvd, I'm not going to break it by trying to rewind it. {wink}

Laura Allen Photography said...

Great review. Really looking forward to seeing this myself.

To quote 'To sit in the dark for two hours and become completely absorbed by a story is a sort of black magic"

I couldn't have put it better myself. The cinema can be flow with awesome magic,when it's right

firewomyn said...

a poignant review for a mind-fuck film. hot fitting :)

Heather Anne Hogan said...

This review is one of my favorite things you've ever written. "Like a dancer spinning precariously on point, the movie teeters on the edge of disaster." COME ON! AWESOME!

URBAN Sapphic said...

Aronofsky has been accused of over-directing Black Swan and gratuitous sex aside (I DO feel the sex was gratuitous to the story of an emotionally challenged dancer), particularly as one sees after the disasterous first half of Nina'serformance prior to the emergence of the Black Swan.

Black Swan is a confusing movie with numerous plot reversals and a whole lot of subtext and that is what I am referring to. Black Swan isn't as phantasmagorically grandiose as much as it is a journey into the subconscious, a study of emotional shortcomings, unhinged reality, madness and death.

You wrote that the movie is isn't great and may even be flawed but you fail to inform your readers where the flaws lay or where it lacks in its greatness. Have you ever read a blog and find yourself disgruntled that there are just too many flowery words that say a lot of "nothing"?

Did you even see the movie? I am asking because in lieu of the youthfulness of your readers I would have thought that you would at least touched upon the morally nihilistic aspect that one can interpret from the ending that is derived from the necessity to
to literally "kill."

Kathryn said...

I enjoyed this review and am keen to see the film. Re other comments, I'm still fairly youthful but hardly naive or slack in my expectations for intelligent blogging, and I imagine I'm a pretty typical DS reader.

Why are you always so negative said...

URBAN Sapphic you have your own blog, write your own review there.

But I'm guessing this is less about a movie review and more about you trying to drive traffic to your own less popular website.

spacedog said...

URBAN Sapphic,

Ignoring the entirely rude tone of your post, I disagree that the sex was gratuitous. The film had a pretty methodical build-up of sexuality almost bursting destructively beneath Nina's surface. The masturbation scenes that were interrupted in terrifying fashion, her nearly coming unhinged at the hands of her predatory instructor... it's not as if there wasn't a progression to the scene in question. And as Nina teetered over the edge, I think the scene in question was both necessary and logical (in its own twisted way).

URBAN Sapphic said...

I don't write reviews because I will post the link to the movie once it's online.

Why write a review or a recap when you can WATCH? Tht's the motto of the blog URBAN Sapphic.
You ALL know this because you AL:L visit my site as well as we both know it.

That is also exactly why I don't have to drive visitors to my site because as you can see when YOU visit my site and viewed my real time visitors map, that I get my share of visitors.

And Kathryn as far as naivite is concerned , well you go on and on about how you aren't naive and so forth so you can relate to my assertion that Dorothy Snarker neglected key philisophical questions that were raised in Black Swan?

What's that? You Can't? Figures, so next time you all round the stage coaches to defend DS get it through your heads that I don't write recaps, or flowery reviews I actually SHOW you the movie as doon as I am able to so you can decide for yourselves!

The sad part is the number of DS readers who regularly visit URBAN Sapphic but are too cowardly to follow me as well.

Kathryn said...

Naivete. Or, naïveté.

Yet... said...

doon or soon?

betsey said...

DS- bonus points for the "A Chorus Line" reference:)

US- if we all visited your site like you say, wouldn't we already know that you "don't do recaps"? Maybe sh............oh right, i don't give a crap about you.

URBAN Sapphic said...

Isn't it time that you ALL grow up? Everyone is so keen to attack my blog instead of doing the ADULT thing by addressing the "Morally nihilistic" aspects of Black Swan. That is what my original comment was about, well that and the fact that I had the audacity to question as to whether DS even saw the movie, because her review failed to give real comment about what actually happened in the movie.

What's that you say? You don't know what "Moral nihilism" is? so that is why you opt for personal attacks instead. Spare me, I am over it.

Like I previously wrote I don't need to drive visitors to my site, however that doesn't mean that when I visit this site that I am precluded from using my Url as an identifier when I leave a comment.

I mean are you who criticize me serious? This isn't the L Word message boards so grow up.

Oh and I am sure that you all will be at my site to view Black Swan just as soon as it becomes available online.

Ciao Bellas

URBAN Sapphic said...

Oh and another emotionally childish thing is pointing out typos particularly since you understand the context of my comments. Like I wrote on my blog: Children discovering their sexual identity..

Kathryn said...

Choosing not to reply to a particular comment does not mean that one doesn't understand it. I certainly wouldn't expect any review, or interview, or critical essay to cover all or most parts of the text it is discussing. The reason most people are drawn to blogs, I think, is to get that blogger's individual perspectives.

And jumping in with petty name-calling and snap judgments aren't part of friendly, intelligent online discourse.

Have a great day, all!

Anonymous said...

what's that you say, urban sapphic, you condescending twat?

oh, wait. i don't care.

Anonymous said...

OH MY GOSH, as a first time visitor all I can say is I love your blog, but this Urban Sapphic chic is a basket case.

I can't wait to see the movie!