Don’t you just hate it when you’re less than blown away by the serious ‘dark movie’ that everyone else is raving about? It’s annoying – making you feel like a big party-pooper for not falling all over yourself to express how profound and moving it all was. There’s nothing really wrong with it and the commitment by all involved is evident – but it doesn’t linger in your thoughts afterward. And it definitely doesn’t scare you. Black Swan is one of these movies for me.
This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the film – I did. It’s ingenious in its use of the world’s most well-known ballet as the “play within a play” conceit, taking a high-camp concept and playing it deadly serious. The performances are all worthy of their raves and praise, too. Everyone involved was operating on all cylinders – Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, even bit-players Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey are effective. Of course Natalie Portman is genius in it – alternating between saccharine sweet and psycho, wasting away before your eyes, and doing her best to become a fragile young woman with a tenuous grip on reality.
The problem for me was that her performance was too realistic. As Nina Sayers, Portman cowers and whimpers and backs down from every challenge in front of her – she was born to be the White Swan. Or so it seems, But there’s also a whacko side to her. That side swan-dives (punny!) into super-whacko as soon as Kunis’ freespirited sexpot shows up, but it takes a while to get there. The slow buildup to the Release of the Whacko is impressive, and it’s effective in giving the film its horror-like vibe. Much like a good ghost story, there are little hints of what’s really going on peppered throughout the film – in numerous mirrors, in character’s reactions, in art, and tattoos. Some of those visuals are unsettling – and happily not all of the creepy shit is shown in the ads (nice!). Mix all of that slow, deliberate storytelling with a whole lot of extended ballet sequences and you’ve got a film that’s really difficult for me not to nod off to.
When Black Swan finally reaches it’s crescendo, the visuals are brilliant – there’s no denying it. The transformation from White to Black Swan is delicate genius, following the beats of Portman’s moves and the orchestra – director Darren Aronofsky has outdone himself. But it’s here where noticed that I really didn’t care anymore. While I admired the artistic and technical achievements, I’d really lost all interest in Nina. She’d been too weak, too naive, too simple, and one-note for me to relate to in any way. I wanted to know more about Lily and follow her around instead – Lily was multi-dimensional. Nina was not. I’m not sure if that was by design or not – but since Nina was the star of the show, it put me to sleep.
I would have taken 10-15 minutes out of the film (by trimming too-long ballet sequences), made Nina a little less pathetic, and amped up the fear quotient. (No way that I’m taking out those much-talked-about sex scenes, though. That’s good stuff.) That would have made Black Swan a full horror flick – and not an Oscar winner naturally – but I would have enjoyed myself more.