Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Black Swan

Now, being the snarky indie film nerd that I am, I can, at times, be rather hostile to the concept of the Academy Awards, better known as The Oscars. I mean, the idea is good, rewarding good craftsmanship, good artistery, good movies in short, but the execution? Not so thrilled. The concept of Oscar Bait is very much alive, and the fact that the Academy seems to have a raging hate-on for anything resembling fantasy, not to mention the sheer meta politics bullshit that shows that there's few things Hollywood can't fuck up royally and still peddle like it's hot cross buns made out of gold and cocaine.
Ok, I got kinda sidetracked there. Still, this year, I agreed with some of the winners, and with others... eh, let's just for brevity say "not so much." One of the winners I very much agreed with was Natalie Portman's award for Best Actress for her performance in Black Swan. I had seen the movie once prior to the awards, and once after, this time in theatres. See, the thing about Norway is that our cinemas get movies rather late and that certain movies, often Oscar nominees or blockbusters, get plain unreasonably long runs, so I could catch it on the silver screen. And boy howdy am I glad that I did.

So, meet Nina, played by Portman. She's a ballet dancer with a stick up her ass and ambitions to play the Swan Queen in the ballet Swan Lake. Of course, getting this role isn't easy, as it requires her both to play the frail, innocent and controlled White Swan and the seductive, wild and unpredictable Black Swan, in addition, the arrival of Lily, played by Mila Kunis, who has the free, unpredictable qualities Nina lacks. Nina gets the part, but she starts going through a change, as if she's becoming more like the Black Swan, both figuratively and literally.

The story's pretty simple on the surface, but there's so many layers piled up here that it can keep a film geek, such as yours truly, happy for a good few weeks on that movie alone. For one, we have Nina struggling as her dark Id surfaces, turning her from a talented doormat to a self-harming, potentially murderous diva, all the while struggling with her smothering Stage Mother and a budding sexuality that quite frankly came (no pun intended) a good couple of years too late. Another interpretation is that it's the story of a young woman who is quite literally willing to destroy both her body and her mind to preform the best she possibly could. Or it could be a different interpretation of Swan Lake where Nina is the White Swan and the Black Swan is... actually, I'm not quite sure, the role of the prince and the role of the Black Swan is sort of interchangeable... yeah..

Anyway, this movie really plays around with what's real and what's not. In most movies that do this, there's usually pretty strong clues what's real and what's not. In Black Swan, though, the movie just shrugs and tells you "I dunno, what do you think?" It gets to the point where one starts to wonder if anything of what we've seen in the movie is real. I chose to believe so, because movies that turn out to be "all just a dream" makes me a sad, sad film nerd. In more than one way, it's very similar to Perfect Blue, that Satoishi Kon brainfuck of a movie. I keep arguing with myself which of the two is the biggest mindfuck, currently I'm leaning Perfect Blue, but I'm not quite sure still.

Actingwise, both Kunis and Portman does a really good job, and it really shows that the director, Darren Aronofsky, the man behind Requiem For A Dream (which I SWEAR I'll watch one of these days) and The Wrestler, did a smashing job at making them seem like rivals. Of course, it Portman played less than amazing, this movie just wouldn't work, but luckily, she does really sell the part, and it helps.

Another thing that really impressed me in this movie is the  cinematography. This was one of the main parts why seeing it at a cinema was awesome. The movie's fairly impressive in its own, but towards the end... oh my. The big climactic ballet scene is just plain brain-meltingly gorgeously filmed and combined with the music and the acting and dancing and what have you, it's awe-inspiring, too bad you're most likely traumatized by some of the previous scenes at this point, and the movie's still unnerving.

Ah yes, this movie also brings the horror, quite frankly it's one of the scariest movies I've seen in this year. As one is want to do, the whole thing starts of slowly, tiny inconsistencies, pictures or mirror images that seem to move in the corner of your eye, it builds up, little by little. It fits very well with the theme of slowly increasing madness, to the point where the audience ends up uncertain if they're imagining things. All the buildup comes together in one glorious set of scenes, by the soundtrack identified as the "Night of Terror," a fitting moniker if I ever heard one. In these scenes, Nina goes to visit the former star of the ballet to give back some minor items she had nicked from her and things... sort of goes downhill from there, without spoiling too much, there are facial stabbing, stalkerish pursuits, hallucinations that may or may not include the two former, and more. The segment is wonderfully filmed, and really pulls on you into the terror, partially because you sympathize with the main character at this point, and partially because the movies aforementioned tendency to not give you any complete answers as to what exactly is real and what's just fantasy.

Not to dive too deep into the symbolism, but as I write this, alternative theories starts to form in my head, and this is a movie that really does that to you. Then again, you're reading from a man who have more miscelaneous theories about Repo! The Genetic Opera than he'd ever admit to in public, so you might want to take that with a pinch of salt.

I should start summing this up before the TL;DR fairy comes around to break my keyboard. It's rare to have a movie that's both deeply thematically intertwined with the struggle of the artist while also being ridiculously well-crafted and quite frightening. It's a movie everybody who can stomach it should watch. Also, if I'm allowed to be controlled by my hormones very very briefly, I should add that the Mila Kunis/Natalie Portman sex scene was... a plus.

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