I had the pleasure of reviewing this movie as part of Table9Mutant‘s IMDB top 250 movies ever series (which she posted about a week ago). Head on over to her site and check out her fantastic movie reviews. I always find her posts a joy to read, and of course, her music video recommendations never fail to make me smile 😀 I always wanted to review Black Swan and so I finally plucked the courage to once again, revisit Daniel Aronofsky’s haunting masterpiece.
Ask me to name a list of movies that have profoundly disturbed me for the longest time and you will find Black Swan gracing the very top; Oh you know because swans are graceful and all. Did you find that funny? Because that’s the only funny thing you’ll see from this review and from the movie. Darren Aronofsky’s dark reverie of a film proliferates ideas of duality, the yin-yang of human nature and nature’s dichotomies. An opening shot of Black Swan is a memorable dance sequence involving Natalie Portman’ as she performs the Swan Lake where the princess Odette is cursed and transfigured into a swan by the devilish Rothbart. It is hauntingly choreographed by Aronofsky whose brilliance we see throughout the film. What’s particularly symbolic here is how the ‘swan’ persona, which becomes the crucial metaphor throughout the film, is at once both graceful and cursed; A little something to note when interpreting the film. Black Swan is like art that slowly unwraps itself with every deliberate attempt to shock and traumatize, revealing the tragic poise it so gracefully holds.
Before continuing, there are some spoilers so if you wish to watch the film knowing close to nothing, please don’t continue. This is an awesomely (is that even a word?) intriguing film, so for those who have seen it I wanna hear your thoughts 🙂
Aronofsky is definitely the artist who isn’t afraid to show. In fact, his philosophy here is that if he could expose everything, he would. Psychological elements flood the film till the point where truth and reality are bent to fit the style. Potraits would come alive (think sinister version of Harry Potter talking paintings) and mock Nina’s increasingly blurry perception. Hallucinations allow Aronofsky to feed the emotional conflict and mental delusions. Black Swan is not for the faint of heart because around every dark corner lay the monsters of the mind.
Black Swan’s methods may be extremely explicit but it’s themes are cuttingly profound. Some call it a passionate melodrama which I think doesn’t do the film justice. Melodrama connotates dragging…the kind of dragging that irritates but sure perhaps it’s also artistic. I beg to differ. For as much as Black Swan has deliberated it’s hypnotic sequences and emotional conflicts, it has also haunted my senses and heightened my anticipation for the tension that would ensure. That alone is enough to dispel the idea that it’s a tedious and melodramatic affair. Yes, it’s hyperactive and yes it’s visually unrestrained but damn, it’s one hell of a movie.
In retrospect, Friedrich Nietzche’s book on philosophy titled ‘The Birth Of A Tragedy’ has themes which are surfaced in the film. Black Swan’s interpretation lie in the way the nature and tragedy are set up to be. To be fair, there will be endless interpretations of the film and mine is just one out of many. But I think that in order to fully appreciate the beauty in what Natalie Portman has portrayed in Nina is essential. It is only through her flaws that I also see her complete beauty and only through the film’s depressing moments do I appreciate the fixed dichotomy between light and darkness, desire and repression, id and ego. Black Swan’s dance theme is reminiscent of Nietzsche’s greek tragedy; Notes of a ballad rise and fall with crescendos and low-points that mirror Nina’s oscillating state. I see the very idea of a swan as Nina herself as she battles her conflicted nature. Aronofsky had many takes and rehearsals for his dance sequences which manily involved Portman and Mila Kunis. It’s no wonder that he was able to surface the raging tempest of the mind even within the dance itself.
What is more powerful than pleasing the audience? Shocking them. I’m inclined to name a few more films like Under the skin and Mulholland Drive. It might just be my taste but there’s no point shocking someone without telling them why. Though the abovementioned films have got me jumping right out of my seat, Black Swan does it with brutal simplicity. It’s not abstract which is why I like it so so much. You don’t spend time wrecking your head thinking why Nina did this or that and instead are left to mull over the lasting consequences of the character’s actions. Black Swan’s may range from being a psycho-sexual study to a director’s symphonic masterpiece, but in the end, it’s destructive melancholy is a psychedelic look at our unresolved natures.
P.S. This was my second best movie of 2010 behind Inception. The Social Network is third. And the King’s Speech is no where to be seen 😉
The beautiful poster by Nhi Tran, her work can be found here.