The new film Black Swan opens today.
And then I was offered a ticket to the screener in New York a couple weeks ago, and I can’t wait to see it again.
Here’s the trailer, if you haven’t seen it.
So, a couple quick things about the film. I’m not going to go on & on about my analysis of it, you should just see it. Though you should know that it’s kind of a horror movie, definitely has some gore, and lots of suspense. They do an amazing job of showing the glamour and beauty of ballet while also juxtaposing the damage that kind of work does on the human body, the reality of starving (or being bulimic), of broken toenails from pointe shoes, of the competition and near-impossible stress the work demands of a body.
And don’t forget that this film is directed Darren Aronofsky, the man behind “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Wrestler.” That should give you a sense of the level of creepy emotionality behind this film (if you’ve seen either of those).
The queer blogs are all painting it as though there’s this huge rivalry between Lily (Mila Kunis) and Nina (Natalie Portman), and the trailer certainly does a lot to back that up. But it isn’t about that so much as it’s about Nina against herself. About coming into her own sexual power, about striving so hard to be perfect that she’s lost her passion and delicious gusto, and is losing her bite, her teeth. Well, I don’t want to ruin it or anything, but she gets it back. Nina’s restraint through the beginning of the film is practically frustrating—but the release and climax is all the more satisfying.
I read a quote about the depth and bredth of female experience that this film portrays, and I really have to agree:
Using loaded code words — from “WHORE” scrawled on a mirror to the suffocating “mother” character, and infantilizing endearments like “sweet girl” and “little princess” to the domineering father figure who blatantly eroticizes her — the film is a hotbed of symbolism and Freudian psychology. Phrases “letting go” and “live a little” are spoken repeatedly. Jealousy, transcendence, paranoia, lust, the decay of the body, fragile self-esteem, self-mutilation — it’s like an early Liz Phair record in its interest in showing the fascinating breadth of the female experience.
And the conceit of the white swan and the black swan—reflected both on stage and off in the costuming of Portman and Kunis (who has black wings tattoed on her back)—provides a perfect visual and thematic metaphor for the warring factions of fear and desire inside a scared girl’s fraught relationship with her body. (Aronofsky explicitly referenced Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion,” David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s “The Red Shoes” as cinematic touchpoints.)
Despite the fact that the film was written by three men (Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin) and directed by another, Aronofsky said that they sought input from nearly a dozen professional ballets dancers, active and retired, to inform the world and the girls’ relationships. He also noted that there were aspects he filtered into his directing from watching how his wife, Rachel Weisz, approaches performing. One also suspects that there was a bit of a meta motivation in casting Winona Ryder in the role of the aging ballerina pushed aside to make room for Portman’s character as the new star.
Portman’s performance is a marvel in that so much of the camera work is done directly in her face. A potent transformation she makes during the story is remarkable, and this will surely do her the twin favors of shortlisting her for an Oscar and erasing any remaining memories of her participation in “Star Wars.” Well, that, and the scenes of her masturbating and having sex with Mila Kunis.
For a graphic sex scene the actresses, who are friends in real life (Portman suggested Kunis for the role of her rival, Lily) suggested that a couple of drinks would help grease the wheels, so to speak. A bottle of tequila was procured for the occasion, and though a day and a half were blocked for the sequence, Aronofsky, feeling guilty, took a half day away and moved on.
There are plenty of other things to watch and read about this online if your curiosity is piqued, like the music video trailer and the featurette. And I am a little bit in love with the clutch Natalie carried to the New York premiere on November 30th. But—$1330 for a purse? Really? Even if it is a first edition of Lolita, I don’t think so. I’m told by my trusty Twitter friends that Rebound Designs on Etsy is the first to do those book clutches, and those prices are way better (and great to note with the holidays coming up).
I’m not an expert on these things, but everybody seems to be Oscar buzzing around this film, and I can see why. Natalie Portman is amazing in it. So restrained, controlled, precise. The control and precision of her facial expressions alone, wow.
If you see it, let me know what you think?