Monday, January 17, 2011

Review/Analysis/Tongue-Bath for "Black Swan"

Good evening.

 I’m writing a review of Black Swan. I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do.

 I said to myself that I didn’t want this blogspot account to go the way of my old one and become a cavalcade of mediocre and flimsily-made reviews. Normally, I would keep myself from doing this sort of thing these days, but I was sold on this film the minute I read the words “Darren Aronofsky.” I’m a big fan of The Wrestler and The Fountain and, while I’ve yet to see his other works, I’m so far convinced that the man can do no wrong.

 You have to understand that I love this film. I saw it on Saturday, and I think it’s one of the best psychological horror films I’ve seen. So many horror movies are about running from ghosts or squidmen or guys with chainsaws strapped to their dicks, and that’s fine, but it’s a lot more frightening when the thing that’s haunting you cannot be eluded or killed with a silver bullet one way or another. I love it so much that I’m putting off writing this week’s flash fiction so I can gather my thoughts and lovingly rub them on this Word document.

 So, summary: Black Swan deals with Nina Sayers, a ballet dancer slowly losing her mind while preparing for the lead roles in Swan Lake, the pure and sweet White Swan and her twin, the evil and seductive Black Swan. She’s a perfect match for the former, but cannot lose herself enough to take on the role of the latter. Circumstances involving her controlling fallen starlet mother, a director and dance instructor who can’t keep his hands out of the pants of his lead actresses, and a mysterious San-Fran party girl trying to steal the role from Nina, all send her down a dark road of transformation, destruction, pleasure, jealousy, and paranoia.

 Let’s talk cast. Natalie Portman does a good job portraying a mostly-innocent woman who slowly gets torn apart by an increasing sense of entitlement, a struggle for individuality in an incredibly strict field, and her own sexual frustration. Vincent Cassel, meanwhile, plays the idle-handed director Thomas, a perfect blend of suave and serpentine who treats the women he favours like hats; Barbara Hershey embraces the role of Nina’s domineering and eerily sweet mother Erica, while Mila Kunis plays Lily, the double-faced San-Fran girl who seems to take on the role of the Black Swan better than Nina.

 With Portman’s character in particular, you get a sense of someone trapped and torn apart by the only world she knows, her grip on reality slipping away with every step she takes to become the Black Swan. As she finds all of the people in her life to be following their own agendas, agendas that involve stepping on her as much as possible, the crippling realization that she is alone and becoming something cruel and inhuman sends her further and further down the rabbit hole. It’s easy to see why someone like her would collapse under pressure. Granted, most people would probably just drop out and jump the next train out of town, but this movie is not about most people.

 Sound direction stood out to me, too. The flapping of wings is heard often, either faintly or as a deafening boom. Sometimes it felt unnecessary, not in terms of placement but in terms of volume, but there was not a moment where it took me out of the experience. And then there’s the musical score. My god, it’s like Tchaikovsky’s music was performed by Nyarlathotep itself, with familiar tunes twisted and mutated to fit the mood of the film, well-depicting the beauty and horror in Nina’s ascension and eventual downward spiral.

 Now, I could continue running down the bog-standard review mess of discussing the acting, sound, camera work, writing, pacing, and presence of hot-dog vendors, but I’d rather talk about the use of colour instead.

 This film is black and white and red all over and it’s not afraid to show it. Colours are used to not only set tone and place, but also character. Black denotes sexuality and control, while white is associated with purity and passion, and red shows up to represent the ever-popular tag team of lust and the grotesque.

 Black in particular is prominent, not only worn by the rest of the cast as they drive Nina towards her dark side, but also in the background as shadows or the paintings in her mother’s room. The colour black then feels like a force she, and we, cannot escape, appearing in so many places that it becomes hard for us to not notice it. Finally, we see black in her make-up, showing that she has lost control of herself.

 If you go to see this film, keep your eyes open but I’m still reeling at how intricate it is. There are all these little set pieces that Aronofsky leaves around that are hitting me even as I write this, and I’m not going to go into detail because I’ve already gushed enough and you probably got the point by now. Plus, if I end up doing reviews in the future, I have no intention of becoming one of those guys who spoils everything. Needless to say, I consider this to be a cinematic marvel, and you need to see it as soon as you can.

 Come to think of it, the only thing I didn’t like about it was this one guy in the theatre who burst out laughing during a pivotal moment towards the end, resulting in the only time in my life I ever wanted Joseph Stalin as an audience member.

See you next time,


EDIT: May 17, 2012. Made one small, small edit to make one of my points seem stronger.

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