Monday, February 21, 2011

The Black Swan - Where do I begin?

We went to see 'The Black Swan' last night armed with little more than the knowledge that Natalie Portman had been nominated for 10 zillion awards, a fondness for the music from Swan Lake, a glimpse of some images from the movie, and a heavy question from my hairdresser (who is usually pretty close to the pulse of public opinion), 'Have you not seen The Black Swan?' Needless to say I had to go.

We left it late to book, well 30 minutes before the start of the movie to be exact, so we ended up 4 rows back from the front, something that anyone who has seen the movie would not recommend.  As time was tight we didn't join the usual queue for popcorn and coke but I managed to put 3€ in a vending machine on the way in to get a drink, just in case I got thirsty.  The machine swallowed my money but gave me nothing in return.  I should have taken it as a sign!

Now believe me, I am one of the first to jump up and criticise some of the beige products that purport to be movies these days, 'backed by money just to make money' and which sanitise our viewing material to a point where we are emotionally and a whole lot more deprived, but the leap to this form of wild melodramatic, over the top crap, with lots of blood, pink bunnies and a premise that in many places is not 'wild' in the good sense of the word, but rather in the utter stupidity of it, just left me frustrated.

Look I can take blood and gore, and I can leap to heights within one's imagination that would not rest easy with the average bear, but this was ridiculous in the extreme and was more like a ego trip by all evolved to such an extent that if an advertisement for blood flavoured dental floss had been part of the film I would not have been surprised.

But my main gripe with this movie was the weakness of the storyline itself.  We have an irritating ballet dancer who is at the point of crossing the line to brilliance into the most coveted role of all, who's only preparation for this enormous emotional leap, other than a controlling share in the factory that produces ballet accessories and a body that has been distorted to wear them, is a jewellery box with a plastic ballerina, a bedroom that any fluffy pink witless female would be proud of, and a mother who apparently gave up her career for a daughter (even though she hadn't 'made it' herself at the grand old age of 28) by managing to get pregnant, which might explain why virginity or the hint of it seems to be something that features strongly here and just for the gas, because many things in this movie seem to be there just for the gas, we have a lesbian scene, masturbation, sex in public toilets, blah, blah, blah and just when you think you have enough more bloody blah blah.

So we end up with a nothing female filled with fluffy pink virginity, an overly ambitious mother who has the worst taste in cakes (you need to have seen the movie to get this one) and a supposedly driving desire to achieve the darker Black Swan side of the main role, all of which creates the premise for Portman's decision to steal small articles belonging to the previous Swan Queen played by Winona Ryder (more of that later), one of them being her passionate red lipstick!  Now big things and little things bother me, but I ask you, if one was going to steal a lipstick to get into the dark passionate side of a character, would you steal a new one or one that she had already worn?  Obviously you can have blood, body mutilation, and the odd bit of vomiting thrown in but you can't have Natalie Portman wearing a lipstick that didn't look like it just came out of a box.

The decision to cast Ms Fluffy Pink in this fantastic role of The Swan Queen by the artistic director of the ballet company played by Vincent Cassel (who incidentally is good in this despite the handicap of the film), is based on the ballet dancer's obvious ability to play the 'Pure White Swan', but her 'potential' for playing the Black Swan is purely based on the fact that she managed to bite him (Vincent Cassel) on the lips in questionable defense!  I'll say no more on this one other than the comment that in my opinion, not in a royal fit would any decent egotistical art director, who has more controlled ambition in his little finger than most, would even in a flight of sexual fancy, cast someone in the role based on nothing more than a bite!

Anyhow, the good and the bad things about movies that mix reality and fantasy is that there is always this ongoing battle as to which each component of a story belongs to, thereby keeping you guessing and seeking to merge the two in a cohesive or at least stimulating way.  This tale of two duelling ballerinas, Natalie Portman fearing that her great chance will be stolen by Mila Kunis who has just arrived from LA (and who incidentally doesn't even need to warm up before dancing), and who has Black Swan qualities oozing out of her, is at times akin to reading a novel in which you never fully engage with any of the characters. 

But before I finish ranting and give a couple of closing positives to this movie, I have to mention Winona Ryder who took on the role of the ex-Swan Queen fired onto the scrap heap (who decides to jump in front of a passing car just for fun), who gave a character performance that had the possibility of elevating her to new heights with as much acting skill as a skinny black-haired male with a couple of reindeer, going 'Ho Ho Ho.'

Finally I come to the positives, which believe it or not there are a couple.  Despite having to push my head into the back of the seat as we were so close to the screen, some of the shots were pretty amazing and in many many a triumph in cinema work, not to mention images of absolute beauty both in the light and the darker side. And to give Natalie Portman playing the role of Nina her due, when she finally became the Black Swan she gave a stellar performance, even if the ending of the film literally fell into the same ridiculous, ego-scratching, painful nonsense as most of the rest of it.

All this sounds like I think I've turned into a film critic, a state of mind not to be maintained with any degree of permanency, so in order to redeem my human qualities somewhat, I will end with a final comment, that the movie certainly wasn't 'beige', and at the very least has gotten people talking!

And just to be balanced, you can read another review of the movie here, where David Mohan gives a slightly different take on it!


  1. so, did you like it though?

    Am even less tempted now to give it a go than I had been after seeing the trailer, but enjoyed your write up

  2. Can't believe I went on such a long rant, blame being too close to the movie screen, it sends you mad!

  3. Wow - this film really got to you - I was actually going to blog on this and a few other films I've seen lately, but you beat me to it (not surprising as my blog moves at tortoise-speed). What I will say is that I completely understand why the film got to you, but I don't entirely agree. Can I actually be bothered to blog a response - we shall see!

  4. Ah go on....be a devil or a rebel or a speedy tortoise! Did you see the King's Speech by the way??

  5. Coo! Read so much, by so many, about this film but that's got to be the best. And, er, I've got to see it now. Not without my coke and salted popcorn though!

  6. Deffo on the coke and popcorn Titus, and make sure you are pretty far back as well! Maybe it's like certain books that you should read twice, perhaps if I put certain aspects that irritated me aside, I could see other things. Certainly a conversation piece!!

  7. I've had this nagging feeling that I wouldn't like this movie and you've definitely reaffirmed that for me.

    Excellent review - of more interest than the film itself.


  8. Thanks for writing so eloquently about what has been on my mind for quite some time. I found the film offensive simply because it was trite while superficially wowing the audience. With some thought, one can see there is nothing profound about the film at all. It was interesting to look at, and I was very curious about what was going to happen, but in the end what happens matters very little and this was the frustrating part.

    Perhaps because it hints at profound change. One going deep within herself in order to find what matters, and is meaningful in the midst of such feathery dazzle blood bathing fireworks, it seems more profound to many than it actually is.

    You have written a wonderful post, well done.

  9. Kat, you should't let my post put you off, there are very mixed reviews about this film.

    Girldaydreaming, yes the transformation did not grab me as profound either, perhaps because I never fully believed in the main character to begin with. I know she had to be presented as someone without too much life depth other than the ballet and a controlling mother etc etc, but one still had to connect with her in some way, and I personnly didn't, which I would blame on the direction and script more than Portman's own ability.

  10. This was one of those movies that I always planned to go and see because of the hype, but gladly (by the sounds of things!), one that I never made it to in the end . . .

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