July 29, 2011

#133: Black Swan (7/10)

I finally got around to seeing Black Swan. It seems like an entire year has passed since this was initially getting hyped. Amazingly I went in completely unspoiled. I knew nothing about the film other than the actors' names and the subject matter. Overall I was really impressed with it. It lived up to most of the praise I'd heard over the past several months.

Even though I really liked the complete film it was uneven for me. I loved 80% of it, and hated the other 20%. I suppose that is the way I am with most films that I really like, but this one felt exaggerated in its unevenness.

A lot of things worked well for me in Black Swan. The main character's apparent decent into insanity was interesting. I figured out she was crazy very early on. I held the belief that her mother was not actually real for a long time, but the movie seemed to give enough evidence to show that she was an actual person. I'm still not 100% convinced. Either way, that was a super creepy relationship... but also a very cliched one. I felt the whole movie was based on the hard-working, overly pressured dancer that we have seen several times before. That is the part of the movie that didn't work well for me. I don't care anything about ballet, and this film didn't make me want to care anything about it. I understand it was merely the backdrop for the story being told, but it was one that didn't work well for me. I didn't enjoy how the dancing was shot, and I wasn't able to appreciate any of the skill that must have gone into it.

There were a lot of characterizations in the film that I found frustrating. The director who is creepily devoted to his art; the replaced star who has been thrown into despair as not being the one in the spotlight; the gifted but uptight girl who has to be technically perfect; the free-spirited outsider who embodied everything the lead character struggled with. There is a definite possibility that several (most) of the times we saw Mila Kunis's character on screen that she was actually representing another side of Natalie Portman's psyche. At some point I just stopped trying to even figure out who was a delusion/fantasy and just enjoyed the madness of it all.

I did enjoy the film, and it was technically amazing. The acting was top notch. Even though Natalie Portman did a fine job with a tough role, for a lot of the second half it seemed like she was playing at going crazy. I don't know the best way to describe that. I didn't think the woman on screen was going crazy. I thought the woman on screen was acting like she wanted us to believe she was going crazy. I guess I didn't totally buy into it all, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it.

There was one idea in Black Swan that I thought could have been powerful, but it wasn't explored at all. The lead role in the ballet has to convincingly play characters at both ends of the spectrum. She must be able to switch from the yin to the yang from one act to the next. She has to be able to embody both the white and the black fully. When casting the role one would think to aim towards the middle so the dancer could easy navigate between the two sides... but the result would be a watered-down version of both. Instead we see a pure white swan get tapped to take on the challenge. She has to force herself to be who she is not. She has to somehow find a black swan within herself. How should somebody go about this. I think that is an interesting question.
In the case of this film I did not get a sense for how the actress has to make that transition. Her natural "white swan" tendency is to practice until she "gets it right". When that doesn't work she resorts to masturbating... or at least trying to. Eventually she is able to pull off the perfect performance by actually going insane and developing multiple personality disorder. This condition serendipitously hit her just in time for her to give the performance of her life. At least that is what we are meant to believe. Supposedly she killed it. I did not get a sense of that at all except for the fact that the other dancers were telling her that. I don't know much about ballet, and I am willing to guess most viewers of this film don't either. The performance at the end seemed like nothing special... and that was a problem for me.

I promise, I didn't hate this movie. It was really good, and that is why I am nitpicking. It probably deserves another viewing before I criticize it. I'm sure there were several subtleties that I didn't pick up on that address some of the very things I didn't find so awesome. Black Swan is definitely worth watching, though it isn't for everybody. My wife didn't really care for it and I don't blame her. This is the type of film that the casual viewer with pretend to like just so they will seem like more of a film connoisseur. While it is a really good movie I didn't get the depth I was hoping for out of it. It is just another movie about somebody going insane. There was potential to do more, but it felt wasted.

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