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Black Swan

tn_blackswanD. Aranofsky’s BLACK SWAN is one of the best movies I saw last year. It’s a disturbing psychological thriller and a story about art and perfectionism. It’s spooky but I think freaking you out is only a side goal. I think it argues that pushing yourself to the limits of perfection can be painful and self-destructive, but maybe worth it. Striving for excellence ain’t easy.

Natalie Portman plays a New York ballet dancer who’s very good but still just does background parts. To her surprise her boss (Vincent Cassel from EASTERN PROMISES) gives her the lead role in Swan Lake. It’s a dual role and he thinks she’s perfect as the Swan Queen but not yet ready for its evil twin, the Black Swan. (It’s not like an Eddie Murphy dual role where you just wear a fat suit, she has to actually dance in a different style.) So the movie is about her struggle to please him, do a good job and not get replaced. She doesn’t want to end up like her mom (Barbara Hershey), a dancer who never really made it big, or her hero (Winona Ryder) who was forced to retire and seems to have snapped because of that betrayal.

mp_blackswanAt first it seems like it’s gonna be Aranofsky doing for ballet what he just did for wrestling. Portman is shown as raw and intimate as Mickey Rourke was. Vulnerable, unmade up, unhealthy, lots of handheld cameras following the back of her head as she walks from place to place, lots of observant details about the world of a ballet dancer. For example one part I love is the montage of the elaborate routine she does to customize her shoes before dancing.

Of course she’s nowhere near as old as Ram, but she’s in a world where Winona Ryder is considered an old hag, so at 29 she figures it’s do or die for her career. And she has family drama too, although it’s sort of reverse of THE WRESTLER – Ram had to face the daughter he’d neglected, this girl has to learn to stand up to the mother who has destroyed her self esteem.

But slowly the movie turns spooky and weird. A little Argento creepiness here, shades of De Palma fever dream over there, with sudden flashes of Cronenberg body horror. I mean her toes grow together at one point, that’s not normal. Aranofsky gets alot of mileage out of small injuries: nasty hangnails, cracked toenails, scabs and blisters, a weird goosebump rash. And some bigger, nastier ones too. She’s plagued by paranoia, hallucinations and symbolism. I think it avoids landing squarely in any one genre, but it’s not for nothing that BLACK SWAN is on the cover of Fangoria this month. And there’s a quote in there where Aranofsky claims he conceived of the movie when he realized Swan Lake is about “a were-swan.”

Things get sleazy. Cassel’s character is sexually harassing the poor girl, going Clarence Thomas on that ass, but you gotta admit he happens to be correct that she’s not exhibiting the seductiveness required of the Black Swan role. So how’s she supposed to take his homework assignment of going home and masturbating? The last straw or a helpful note?

Yes, it’s true, Portman goes mildly wild in this one. But don’t get too excited, fellas. I’ve always thought lil’ Padme could use a whole lot of meat on those bones, but for this role she took more meat off to play bulemic. She’s got veins and bones poking out willy nilly, a complete absence of curves, it’s just too bad. So despite more than one scene of her furiously masturbating I’m sure only the most dedicated Amidalaphiliacs will want to join in at home. Give Aranofsky credit for pulling that one off.

(But never fear, he does have Mila Kunis in there though, and it doesn’t look like he kept her in a cage without food.)

I’ve heard people talk about this movie as being ridiculous or campy but enjoyable, like it’s I KNOW WHO KILLED ME or something. I think it’s much more in control than that. It’s a character drama, a suspense movie, an erotic thriller, a monster movie and a statement about art, but everything is in the right place. An elegant, if wiggly line, not a messy paint splatter. It’s carefully put together and weird in a good way, although definitely not literal enough for the young women behind me who did not know how to stop whispering questions to each other about what was going on (I think they were supposed to be in YOGI BEAR).

Portman is incredible in this role. She creates such a strong picture of this meek, intimidated but talented girl, has a hard time raising her voice or demanding what she wants, but is trying to learn to. She shows fear and self-hatred and anger at her mom. She keeps trying to bring out another side of herself but every time she tries you think nope, that’s not the Black Swan.

Then when she (SPOILER?) finally does it you know it immediately, holy shit, look at her face. A completely different person. From a scared little girl to that porcupine seductress lady in NIGHTBREED. Most of the movie she’s Nina. On the poster she’s the Black Swan.

With martial arts in movies, if you were actually an expert you would be able to tell that Keanu is faking it, but to most of us it’s believable that he’s Neo. Ballet might be like that too, but to my untrained eye it looks like Portman is doing some incredible dancing. I suspect digital shenanigans in the opening scene which seems to show closeups of a bunch of crazy footwork and then show her body and face within the same shot, to show it’s really her. But it could be real too. I read that she did ballet as a kid (before LEON?) and trained hard for a year to do the movie. This while also giving maybe the most grueling and best acting performance of her career. Throw some awards at this girl, please. Preferably ones made out of chocolate and fried dough. Every nomination should come with a free large milkshake, two jars of frosting and a spoon.

In my opinion I know very little about ballet, other than what I’ve learned from the Van Damme movies. But it’s obvious that there are parallels between the story and the Swan Lake ballet, and when the credits listed Swan Lake character names next to all the main characters I got the hint that there was way more going on here than I realized. So if I ever watch this one again I definitely plan to watch the ballet first in order to really get an understanding of what’s going on (by which I mean I will read the wikipedia entry about it and then pretend to be an expert).

But there’s another level it works on that seems more personal. Remember there was the old Darren Aranofsky that made REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, he was the fancypants filmatistic show-off with the quick cuts and bombastic music, trying to make his sounds and images as narcotic as the drugs in the story, throwing everything at you from gruesome body horror to intense melodrama to I guess not literally the kitchen sink but instead a monstrous killer refrigerator. Young people thought he was a visionary genius, slightly older people thought he was a pretentious film school weenie, and everybody else correctly believed he was a little of both. (And then they used the music on about a thousand trailers including LORDS OF THE RINGS.) A couple movies later there was the reborn Aranofsky of THE WRESTLER who was completely stripped down, the opposite of all that, using raw handheld cameras and long takes, throwing away pretty much all of the artifice and zeroing in completely on character and performance, and mostly on Mickey Rourke.

Well I think those two Darren Aranofskys are also the two swans. Whether he intended it or not this motherfucker is autobiographical. I don’t know much about his personal life other than he used to be married to Rachel Weisz and he has a mustache. But I think this movie pretty much says what he’s about. He’s a perfectionist, he throws himself into his work, he’s scared shitless, he’s shy, his work hurts his relationships, his relationships hurt him, he’s learned all kinds of technique (REQUIEM, THE FOUNTAIN) but now he has to let it go, he has to be loose, he has to surprise us (THE WRESTLER). And BLACK SWAN is both, it’s the looseness but then it spins down a drain and twists itself into a web of technique and comes out a hybrid – crazy as fuck but also precise and inevitable. It starts in a dream about a ballet and ends with a ballet that might as well be a dream.

THE WRESTLER is probly still my favorite Aranofsky movie because of the subject matter (it’s about wrestling), but to be honest this one is even better. He keeps improving through practice. I hope he’s not forcing himself to puke, though.

This entry was posted on Saturday, January 8th, 2011 at 2:57 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

89 Responses to “Black Swan”

  1. Yeah, this film was amazing. The scene where Portman, after being the Black Swan, returns and reapplies her white swan-makeup was so great, I laughed in disbelief.

    I also saw a parallel to this movie; I mean, we as viewers see how Portman has trained for a year and gotten thin as hell to make it believable, she really pours herself into the role, and losing that much weight cannot be healthy – but we honor it with great reviews and awards, we want our actors to lose themselves this way for the film’s sake. It’s cruel, but maybe it’s worth it. For us, and by extension for them. Or maybe they’re just killing themselves for some performance that will be almost forgotten in a decade or two. And maybe it’s both ephemeral and worth it.

    Man, I loved this film.

  2. Yeah, this film is amazing. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

  3. Well, I’ve yet to see True Grit but this was far and away my favourite movie of last year. It’s the fucking meta-ness of it all that gets me, it someone ever releases a making-of documentary about this movie you’d pretty much have the same goddamn film. I kept wondering how Portmans head didnt explode every time she looked in the mirror (is that Nina staring back at her? The Black Swan? Herself? No, all of the above). And then she goes and breaks the fourth wall at the end (I think, it was hard to see her pupils on the shitty torrented* version I had) with the line “I was perfect”, and I thought yes Natalie, yes you were.

    *Sorry, whoever I owe money to. I’ll get it on Blu-ray I promise.

  4. Also, about Cassel’s character, I can’t decide if that guy was trying to take advantage or if he was in fact doing exactly what he needed to do in order to help bring about this masterpiece he knew could happen. The whole movie seems to be saying that any and all bets are off in the pursuit of such a thing and maybe that includes some almost-rape. It’s an uncomfortable idea, and one I’m sure sleazy movie producers have been endeavouring to propagate as long as they’ve existed, but I dunno… whatever it takes right? Isn’t a masterpiece ultimately far more important than it’s creator?

  5. I get when people see this movie as an allegory about the personal destructiveness of dedication to art, but to me that doesn’t quite follow because Portman doesn’t understand or like the role she’s supposed to be playing, or particularly seem to enjoy her dancing, period. All we ever see her do is panic that people won’t think she’s good enough. If the movie’s about anything (and I don’t think its about much) I think its more likely about how sad it is that this poor little gal has such a tiny, joyless life. It’s too awful to stay where she is and too frightening to escape, so she just kind of floats away.

    I’m one of the folks that finds this film at least 50% dark comedy — obviously somewhat more thoughtfully made than I KNOW WHO KILLED ME but in a lot of ways no less silly. It’s got a few things on its mind but calling it a movie about a were-swan sounds about right. Given the fact that they punked out on naming it WERE-SWAN I’m just going to assume it’s meant as an unofficial sequel to the 2006 New Zealand were-sheep horror opus BLACK SHEEP.

    Here’s my theory, though: the whole thing is so operatically hysterical and unapologetically ludicrous that I suspect that what Aronofsky is actually trying to do is present us the perspective of poor high-strung Nina. I defy any reasonable adult to take the ending seriously, or at least to not admit that it’s laughable on its face. It makes more sense if you think about it as this poor stunted woman-child’s primary-colors fantasy on her situation. She’s basically a dramatic, scared teenager with no real-world experience at all — of course that’s how she’s going to see the world. She’d totally identify with TWIGHLIGHT if she found it somehow. The tragedy of the film is that at this late point, its hard to believe she’s really going to be able to move beyond angst into full personhood without psychologically destroying herself first (which is exactly what happens).

  6. The ending is operatically hysterical and unapologetically ludicrous because it’s a ballet she’s about to perform in, which is itself operatically hysterical and unapologetically ludicrous. Nina was simply performing the mental gymnastics necessary to inhabit the role completely – she became the Black Swan. Calling it ludicrous is like calling Daniel Day-Lewis ludicrous because he lived in the wilderness for six months prior to Last of the Mohicans.

  7. Outstanding. Of course outlawmotherfuckingvern.com is where I find the best BLACK SWAN review I’ve yet read. I can’t describe how tired I quickly grew of reading minor variations of the same words from so many lesser mouths [*wink*] to describe the best movie of 2010. Them’s a bunch of delicate, unoriginal White Swannish clones out there in mainstream film review world. Vern is the Black Swan, the badass of movie connoisseurs, and he performs the role with ease, noting Jean-Claude van Damme as his ballet instructor with the same critical facility as most film critic weenies would note their previous experiences at Cannes Film Festival.


  8. Also, who say’s artists enjoy the act of creating art? It ain’t something they do for fun, they do it because they were born to.


    Mode7 — yeah, the opera is silly but we’re supposed to imagine she had to kill her evil imaginary friend (with a mirror, of course, in case it’s too subtle) but actually she really killed her inhibited, frightened self, but actually she actually killed herself, again, using a mirror. In the real world. As I read it, there’s no ambiguity at all about what actually happened; the movie says she imagined that she killed her competition which was in fact part of her splintered personality (represented by the metaphor of the shattered mirror!) but actually she stabbed herself and it took awhile to bleed out because she was in the zone.

    That’s not opera, my friend, that’s cheese. Tasteful, well-crafted, artisan cheese perhaps, but try and tell me that shit would be out of place in I KNOW WHO KILLED ME. There is no world in which those “mental gymnastics” are anything other than hoary hollywood silliness. Which is fine, of course, its hugely entertaining, but let’s call a spade a spade.

    As for her “art” — you’re right of course that art needen’t be joyous or even understood by the artist, but I don’t see much evidence in the film that Nina is doing ballet because she’s “born to”… looks to me more like her mom forced her to live out her failed dreams and her world is so tiny and frightening that she has nothing else going on for her. Her motivation isn’t really to even get to dance, it’s to get recognized as good, to get validated on the single tiny thing she has going for her. Everyone describes her as technical and mechanical, but devoid of feeling. None of these things suggest that they’re describing a tortured artist so much as a scared child.

    BTW, not trying to be a contrarian asshole; I loved the film unabashedly. A little healthy debate usually helps me crystalize my interpretation of things.


  10. I really wanted to love this but I felt nothing until the incredible third act, by then it was too late though. Was also disappointed in my man Clint Mansell’s work. Though incorporating swan lake bits into the score was pretty awesome. It just didn’t grab me by the balls the way Requiem, The Wrestler and even The Fountain did. The whole film felt like it was coasting. Dependent solely on easily the greatest performance of this petite slut’s career. Which only could come courtesy of Aronofsky a director who is so brilliant at getting the best out of actors that it’s why I greatly prefer him to say, Christopher Nolan. In retrospect I could see all the personal themes Vern highlighted even clearer after this review. I might have to go see this again sometime before it leaves the flicks.

  11. billydeethrilliams

    January 8th, 2011 at 8:42 am

    The final ballet scene contained some of the most intricate camerawork and choreography I’ve ever seen. Also the club scene with the flashing lights reminded me of Jacob’s Ladder. And Vincent Cassel is the shit. The ballet movie fucks the cowboy movie in the ass. Also it slaps the boxing movie in the dick.

  12. “In my opinion I know very little about ballet, other than what I’ve learned from the Van Damme movies.”


  13. Mr. Subtety- I think you’re taking things way too literally. Either that or i’m reading far too much into it (wouldn’t be the first time).

    The way I see it, this movie is kind of a blueprint, or a cookbook. This is what it takes to create a masterpiece – not art, but a perfect, once in a generation piece of art. It’s about how the planets need to align in order for something like that to happen. So here in my opinion are the steps required, as shown in the movie (this is gonna sound way, way pretentious but, um, so i’m pretentious ok?).

    1) It takes a person born and raised in very specific circumstances. Remember that the role of Swan Queen requires that someone perform both the White Swan and the Black Swan – both as important as each other. Nina was born to play the White Swan, she’d been raised from birth in such a way that she already embodied that role. If the Swan Queen was gonna be perfect, then the White Swan absolutely needed to be someone exactly like Nina.

    2) A masterpiece requires that this person (the artist), loses themselves COMPLETELY in whatever it is they’re trying to create (The Black Swan). They need to dig so deep inside that they become completely lost inside their own head, which is exactly what we were seeing in the second half of the movie. Nina was inventing whatever motivation was needed in order to effect the kind of change within her that this masterpiece required. Everything she did, she did because it NEEDED to be done. Including stabbing herself with the mirror – which was right before she needed to take the swan dive (sorry), off the stage. She’d had trouble taking that dive during rehearsals so she did what she had to in order to properly motivate herself. Was it real? Was it not? It doesn’t matter, because art is all about taking something that exists only in your head and somehow making it real.

  14. I hear ya, Mr. Subtlety, but I have too much respect for Darren Aronofsky to laugh at this one. Dude is a pure artist. It sounds cheesy as fuck to say that, but I think it’s true. No one else is doing this on this scale in the medium of cinema. He’s really going for timelessness here, as in all his films, and he hits a grand slam so far out of the park the baseball is now entering Xibalba.


    I know many of you celebrate the horror genre here. We all know Vern equates holy holidays with horror films. He’s probably got a weeklong retrospective of obscure films on VHS featuring the ghost of Ulysses Grant and slashers based on Millard Fillmore & Gerald Ford for the week culminating in President’s Day.

    Horror is a great genre for movie buffs’ discussions because it gives kind of a clean baseline of conventions & expectations that allow a good jumping-off point for all the filmatistic possibilities with special effects, cinematography, sound design, music, and bizarre comedy. I suspect a big reason you like it is that you like to be scared. I suspect a big reason you like to be scared is that you like to be stimulated, to be startled, to get the ole ticker going in the midst of an otherwise safe, maybe boring life, assuming you don’t live in Juarez. Or Detroit.

    Most of you probably realize I am a bit of a fan of this website and this community – hi-5, body bump, daps all around – but, as you may recall, I have admitted the sad affliction of the inability to be scared by a movie. Without knowing this thrill, I can never love the horror genre as many of you seem to love it. [vague threat toward Mr. Majestyk followed by badass comment about stalking terrorists & murderers in the dark and getting shot at and how even that doesn’t scare me except that one time on the roof when the full moon gave the enemy the drop on me] THE WIZARD OF OZ did it for me when I was a lad, but that was because I felt a disturbing oppressiveness by its environment & the inescapability of the poppy fields & the castle. And it didn’t help that the “happy ending” was Dorothy returning to a shitty Kansas farm in sepia/black & white. There were no good, fun places in that movie. Everywhere seemed like a nightmare where a nice young girl would never have real friends or fun things to do. Now, shit, I didn’t realize this until I started typing this, but evidently I’m now able to draw a lot of parallels between my experiences with both THE WIZARD OF OZ and BLACK SWAN, the only movie ever to scare me.

    BLACK SWAN is the only film ever to make me dread its next frame. It made me forget I was in the cinema. “Please don’t pick at that fingernail” / “Apparently ballerinas torture themselves worse than pro wrasslers for a career” / “Please stop rehearsing and go ice your feet, Nina” / “Please don’t drink that, Nina” / “Please put down the blade, Beth” / “Please stop calling, Mom” These are examples of the only thoughts I was capable of thinking during my viewing. I was scared. I was begging it to stop. My usually perceptive, multitasking mind’s functions were streamlined into nothing but a pure reaction to horror. My breathing was shallow. I begged the air for some moment of relief that did not come (except maybe for a split second when an intoxicated Nina smiles & goes, “Ding ding ding!”). I felt dread. And this feeling sustained itself literally until I rose from my seat at the very end.

    It was a beautiful dark twisted fantasy. It was a nightmare. It was a glorious, perfect nightmare.

  15. Mode7 — Weirdly, that’s not too far from my interpretation (which is that what we’re seeing is meant to represent her adolescent fantasy more than reflect reality). The problem is, there’s surprisingly little ambiguity about what happens in the film; if you believe any of it is real, than you pretty much have to accept the ending as literally happening. I sort of like to imagine that the whole film is meant to represent the sort of goofy narrative someone like Nina would have to construct in order to give her life some meaning and weight, which is, I think, similar to what you’re saying. The whole story is not literally true, but rather a tale told by someone who has a need for this sort of story.

    Where we differ is that I still don’t see Nina’s quest as one for artistic perfection, but rather for validation of her tiny, joylessly regimented life. She can only become the black swan when she has basically thrown away everything which made up her old life (including, literally, her life). But it’s not about art — its about opening up to the pleasures of life. Admittedly, its somewhat shallow, but hey, what a ride.

  16. Well, I suppose a clear case can be made for either interpretation but I think I’m gonna stick with mine because frankly, the movie kicks more ass that way. The only thing I’m undecided on is how aware Aronofsky was of the meta stuff. I think if Portman did in fact break the fourth wall at the end with that final line, then it changes the way all the mirror scenes should be interpreted. It’d also put the movie onto an almost unheard of level of genius. That’d be some audacious shit right there.

  17. By the way, even if the ending is literal there’s no saying Nina died. It’s my understanding (mostly from reservoir dogs) that it take hours to bleed out from that kind of wound.

  18. I just took it as the mental breakdown of somebody who has been pressured to the point of becoming greatly insecure really. It wasn’t as poetic as say The Fountain (Aronofsky’s true masterpiece) yet I’d say it was more ambigious. In The Fountain you could pretty much deduce the scientist was so willing to become one with his wife again he would have no problem heading into a supernova after enduring self induce immortality.

    At least by what’s presented in the film that’s one interpretation that viewer easily be brought to. Mr. Subtety is not the first person I’ve seen view a lot of this as basically hammering the audience over the head with exposition. I didn’t take a lot of it literally it’s one of the reasons I actually want to see this again. To make more heads or tails out of all the themes even if it’s still fairly clear I love studying films like that after a nice blunt to the head.

  19. I hope Afronosky won’t starve Hugh Jackman down for Wolverine.

  20. Man, I hope that wasn’t a typo.

  21. LOL it’s Wolverine man not The Machinist.

  22. Mr. Subtlety wrote, “. . . I suspect that what Aronofsky is actually trying to do is. . .”

    See, stuff like that and some of what I read here and in the discussion among Jek/Dan P/Jake/et cetera in recent days concerning the fundamental approach to moviewatching & analysis is troubling. You all made great points, and the discussion is excellent and appropriate, but you’ve gotta give the movie a chance to punch you in the gut first. And if it does so, you’ve gotta give it credit for that first & foremost. The director’s intent is never my primary concern in fiction.

    Tabula rasa is our friend.

    Does the narrative make sense? Do all the details add up? Did you feel any glaring errors or moments of not being able to suspend disbelief? Do you care about what happens next? These are the questions one can quietly smoothly answer & process during the initial viewing of a film while still letting the film’s narrative dominate your ongoing reaction & understanding. I can not condone the practice of diminishing a film’s impact or excellence because a second viewing, actual in or in mental replays, failed to replicate the experience of the first or because days of pontification led one to displace the experience with an analysis of “. . . what Aronofsky is actually trying to do. . .” If you thought this thought during your first viewing of the film, then that’s even worse. I put on blinders and went through all sorts of hoops of self-restraint to avoid any spoilers or reviews before I saw BLACK SWAN. I’m infinitely glad for this decision and for my philosophy regarding first time viewings because I got catharsis for $8.50.

    Here’s Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul,” on BLACK SWAN and on how an auteur and his/her audience should experience art:

    **Reaches your reflex, so let it work
    When this is playing, you can’t get stuck wit
    The steps, so get set and I’m a still come up wit
    A gift to be swift, follow the leader, the rhyme will go
    Def wit the record that was mixed a long time ago
    It can be done but only I can do it
    For those that can dance and clap your hands to it
    I start to think and then I sink
    Into the paper like I was ink
    When I’m writing, I’m trapped in between the lines,
    I escape when I finish the rhyme…
    I got soul. **


    I’m the one who has compared Vern to Benjamin Franklin. I compared his writing on okay horror film remakes to generations of artistic geniuses’ attempts to reinterpret Shakespeare, for chrissake. Yes, I’m guilty of jumping directly to the arguably overblown scholarly detachment aspect of enjoying whatever’s on the monitor in front of me. However, I come here first & foremost because, when I read these reviews, I let myself sink into the words on my monitor. (Vern & Rakim clearly have a greater ability to “sink into the paper like [they were] ink.”) Thus, more often than not, I get a genuine surprise. If I came to this website with a meme-ready mentality and certain fixated expectations of humor & surprise, then it would rarely be surprising and never fully rewarding. I would hate to watch a movie with that approach.

  23. I think the filmatic “transformation” for Darren A. came as a defiant, fuck you response to the negativity his baby heady project THE FOUNTAIN got from critics.

    Sad because I thought FOUNTAIN was terrific, ambitious and a little pretentious, but with that material I suppose its inevitable and part of the point. I remember me and my film buff snob buddies at school just absolutely impressed by it, and gobsmacked by the fact that the mainstream cinema called it a “failure” in every way.

    Oh well, still a good movie. Only one i know of with a tree cumming.

  24. billydeethrilliams

    January 8th, 2011 at 11:20 am

    To everyone: What’s your thoughts on the theory of her mother being a figment of her imagination?

  25. THE FOUNTAIN might also be the only movie in which the protagonist achieves ultimate happiness by smiling, tearing up, & uttering “I’m going to die; I’m going to die” to his dead wife.

  26. Mouth- I think movie discussions are all about trying to quantify and articulate that initial gut reaction. If you enjoy a movie you’ll go back and try to pick out reasons you enjoyed it, likewise if you disliked it you’ll later go back and find reasons it sucked. It’s all retroactive though, most of that shit I wrote up there didn’t immediately occur to me as I watched the movie – I just knew I loved it, and because I loved it I later tried to find a reason exactly why.

    So I think that this movie probably just doesn’t hit some people the way it hit me, but not because they were too busy analysing it at the time. It just didn’t. So much like myself they then try to find the reason why they had the reaction they did.

  27. Mouth — just to be clear, I thought the movie was tremendously entertaining, by turns tense, tragic, and darkly hilarious. I agree with what Dan said on his blog (http://danandthemovies.blogspot.com/) that I didn’t find it particularly scary given that the deliniations between real and imagined are always so clear-cut. Tense as a mothefucker, though — its one of the most visceral film experiences I’ve had in a long, long time, and I suspect that’s part of the appeal to you. I completely agree that dissecting a film too much can spoil your more instinctive reaction — but on the other hand, film is also communication and I find that considering meaning, context, and possible interpretation can also make the experience a more interesting one, as long as you don’t go too far.

    Honestly, despite the way I phrased that line, I’m not all that interested in what Aronofsky actually though (if anything) about what he meant with the film. I use that framework as a way to imagine possible meanings and to explore the film using “intention” as a starting point. I’ll never meet Aronofsky or ask him what he was doing, and even if he called me up and explained it, I’d still be interesting in different ways of imagining how it could all add up.

  28. billydeethrilliams — my thoughts on whether the mom is real or not are about the same as my thoughts on the theory that Ferris Bueller is actually just Cameron’s dream while’s he’s sick one day. Could be, but there isn’t a ton of evidence for it, and even if its true, what difference does it really make?

  29. “I hope Afronosky won’t starve Hugh Jackman down for Wolverine.”
    I heard it’s actually going to be called “THE Wolverine” now.Which just makes me think of The Wrestler starring Wolverine.
    #if you’ve ever seen a guy clawed though the face, you’ve seen me…”

  30. Mr. Subtety- I don’t think the real/imagined stuff is at all clear cut – it just seems that way because there’s a lot of FX shots. For instance, Nina obviously wasn’t dropped during the show – if she had I’m pretty sure the movie wouldn’t have ended with “I was perfect”, and a standing ovation.

  31. billydeethrilliams

    January 8th, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Mr. Subtlety- Well, it was something I read on the IMDB boards. I personally don’t agree with it(mainly because of the scene where Kunis comes to her apartment), but I figured it would be something for people to chew on. Does it make a difference? If that was the case then she’s more unstable than previously thought to be. Whatever.

  32. Gotcha, Mode7 & Mr. Subtlety. I just like to watchdog against intellectuallizing stuff too quickly & forgetting the reason we love certain movies.

    You know what I learned from discussing BLACK SWAN with one of my girlfriends? Vincent Cassel is hot. I had no idea. To me, dude looks like a breathing Picasso from his Triangle Period. I read something about IRREVERSIBLE recently and learned that he married or hooked up with Monica Bellucci, so I guess that confirms that he’s attractive and that the sexuality his BLACK SWAN character displays & draws from his performers makes sense.

    Also, not only is Natalie Portman amazing & pretty in this one, she proves to be one of the few actresses whose features hold up very nicely in extreme close-up. No pore problems, hair looks great even when it’s naturally poking out all over the place. She’s not the hottest woman I’ve ever seen, as she has striking features & an angularity rather than the voluptuousness I usually go for, but somehow her physical uniqueness makes her much prettier in this role than anyone else I could imagine.

    And, of course, there’s this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpMPFGBtE7Q


    It just occurred to me this morning that at the end of BLACK SWAN she jumps into the air and is possibly dead, the end of THE WRESTLER he jumps into the air and is possibly dead, so now we know how THE WOLVERINE is gonna end.

  34. But at least we know that Wolverine will be bellowing animalistically when he jumps into the air and is possibly dead.

  35. Mr. S wrote: **There is no world in which those “mental gymnastics” are anything other than hoary hollywood silliness. Which is fine, of course, its hugely entertaining, but let’s call a spade a spade. **
    – I’ll call it something new, something other. For smart, filmatistically experienced folk like us, it’s too easy, too simplistic to apply the insanity interpretation and categorize Nina’s hallucinations as manifestations of insanity & tricks of jumbled perspectives. We allow the limitations of explanations conveyed in the English language to sully or limit our understanding of her character. Yeah, maybe this is semantics. Yeah, we’ve probably all been through the argument over how a necessarily visual medium can never be truly properly be explained with words. But I think Aronofsky’s work, especially here, is the best of cinema in terms of defying expectations to the point that it is transcendently original. He doesn’t even seem to know that there *are* any expectations.

    Emily Dickinson didn’t know her work would be published; it was just her and her pen & paper upstairs at the heezy. She wrote because she wanted to express something. She had to get it out of her head, and she didn’t give a damn about standard style or her future readers’ arguments about flourishes of punctuation. Aronofsky & his crew seem to have done a similar thing with BLACK SWAN. No one knows how the hell to film ballet dancing in a scary movie about one’s ultimate sacrifice being the path to perfection (though they’ve proven adept at filming yoga moves in a fantastical movie about death being “the road to awe”). Dude just had a well-formed idea in his head, typed it up, and grabbed a camera. We can all write volumes on how & why BLACK SWAN is scary, funny, stupid, and awesome, but the movie itself, like Dickinson’s poetry, will always be its own best defendant & representative, floating above the fray.

    Mode7 wrote: **The only thing I’m undecided on is how aware Aronofsky was of the meta stuff. I think if Portman did in fact break the fourth wall at the end with that final line, then it changes the way all the mirror scenes should be interpreted. It’d also put the movie onto an almost unheard of level of genius. That’d be some audacious shit right there. **
    – Peep the very first scene. Note how Nina bolts straight toward the camera, like she wants me to pull her to safety, and then is yanked back into her dance with the, uh, the black dude thing.

  36. Portman furiously masturbating you say? sign me up!

  37. Hell of a review! I really have to see this one now even if my wife is uninterested.

  38. Mouth – I’m pretty stoned right now but you just blew my mind with that shit.

  39. You know what? If Aronofsky keeps his game at this level, I’ll be ready to declare him better than Kubick in a couple of Movies time.

  40. This one was my fave of the year by a country mile – I feel Mr. Godunov in my avatar would approve too. Robocop is pretty much my fave movie – and I was dead against the remake, but now I’d love to see what he could do with the premise. Although I read he’s putting a lot of the stuff he developed for his Robocop into The Wolverine, so that’s awesome.

  41. Kubrick I mean. Kubick’s fucking awesome, no way he’s as good as Kubick.

  42. Once again, Vern is the motherfuckin’ truth.

  43. With that (bleh) SNL sketch tonight, I guess BLACK SWAN is indeed a massive big (indie) hit after all?

    Oh and I had to be reminded of how lame SNL is week in, week out. The TNA of comedy.

  44. Mr. Subtlety: I almost entirely agree with you, particularly with your phrase “hoary hollywood silliness,” but let me ask you this: didn’t you get a glimpse into the “joy of the artist” when Portman was in the bar with those doofuses and was about to tell him why ballet is important? Jackie Burkhart sort of deflects the doofuses by saying, “it’s not for everyone,” but Portman is in some sort of art-bliss trance. Likewise, at the beginning, she makes a remark about the current state of the company being “so sad.” Both examples reinforce your point about how disconnected she is from the “real” world, but there is a kind of mystification in there as well that I attributed to the art itself, not just symptoms of traumatic disorder.

    I thought the film in general was adequate. I liked the physicality of Portman’s performance, though, like every goddamned script written in the last ten years in America, the dialogue was too literal and the plotting too obvious. I’m not sure hand-held was the way to go. I think Greenaway circa COOK, THIEF … would have had a blast with the material and given it the operatic look it deserved.

    Also, anyone who was really turned on by the ballet part of the movie should check out Guy Maddin’s film of the DRACULA ballet. It’s exquisite.

  45. When things like the guy is as good or better than Kubrick start getting thrown around, and even if you decide he’s not better you still really have to think about it, then the guy gets to be in the V.I.P club. There is no quantifiable “best director ever”, it’s a group photo of the party, and Aronofsky just showed up. Christopher Nolan is on his way with a six-pack, and provided he doesn’t get a flat tire, he’s in.

    Spoiler for every Darren Aronofsky movie:

    Vern is right about the endings. Requiem ends with with everybody dead on the inside, every other film ends with everyone actually dead, so yeah, I think he is gonna be the guy that kills Wolverine. At this point, someone has got to be the one.

  46. The plotting was too obvious? I was surprised & horrified when I realized that Nina’s home is a prison, her mom the warden. Even on caller ID, she dominated Nina’s phone, the object ostensibly representing one’s connection with the wider world, in big bright scary capital letters, MOM. That seemed unique to me.

    The literal plot served & amplified the theme, the primary message of the narrative. It lacked subtlety, as Mr. Subtlety himself mentioned, because there was no excess narrative. I thank Aronofsky & crew that he continues to be mindful not to waste my time with establishing shots or unnecessary character quirks or comedic relief. Why pad or hide things when doing so only makes the viewer’s discovery of them more difficult but not more meaningful? He doesn’t try to throw a curveball in hopes that it will make the viewer more surprised later in the story when an element from earlier reappears. He doesn’t do slow zooms just for the sake of slow zooming. If a character is crying, it’s not a mystery why he or she is crying, and the reward for realizing why a character is crying isn’t a plot development presented like a bacon treat to a puppy. There was never any fat to trim because Aronofsky never gave his original story any fat in the first place.

    Did anyone else notice that there were zero exterior establishing shots of buildings and zero shots of the city skyline? Such shots would have been conventional, and, as I wrote above, Aronofsky doesn’t appear to be aware that there is such a thing as convention! This lack of establishing shots or transition-smoothing shots was not just for the purpose of establishing a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere; such shots would have no purpose in this story!

    The city means nothing. The subway means nothing. The weather means nothing. Current events mean nothing. Dialogue outside the small cast is nonexistent. The narrative exists in a vacuum, if not within one character’s mind, and the characters are all clearly heavily symbolic. The only audience surrogate is, arguably, an actual audience in the dark, and their only contribution to the narrative, and rightly so in my opinion, is applause. Nina is not “disconnected from the ‘real’ world.” There is no real world in BLACK SWAN!
    And so we see that the message is at least a co-equal with the story. Thus, for example, we see the story naturally progress in ballet rehearsals, and we have a brief scene in which a lady in black literally instructs Nina face to face on every minute muscle movement she should undergo in order to act as the titular beast.

    Okay, I get it, this ain’t, for example, Powell & Pressburger’s THE SMALL BACK ROOM, (which arguably maybe possibly influenced the Aronofsky we know & love from REQUIEM FOR A DREAM), in which a straightforward shot of a lazy house cat is potentially suggestive of the protagonist’s dream state.
    Yes, this is closer to John Woo’s FACE//OFF, where the theme of the capacity & conflict of good & evil in every man is conveyed via shots of a good man and an evil man symmetrically facing each other with mirrors everywhere.

    So when we see the lady in black instructing Nina on how to act like the Black Swan, we can poke fellow viewers and say, “See, she hasn’t learned how to truly become the Black Swan yet. It doesn’t come naturally to her. Ya know, the dialogue here is too literal and the plotting too obvious.” Or we can nod internally with the kind of satisfaction that doesn’t originate in the cerebrum. We can join the nightmare.

  47. Vincent Cassel is excellent, by the way. I didn’t even notice him acting. He was his role. Owned it. The look on his face near the very end when Nina challenges him and says something like “Do you really think this company needs another controversy right now?” is amazing. Within 1 second you see that he’s taken aback by her strong words, reluctant to continue bothering his star dancer at a crucial moment on opening night, turned on, remembering the kisses & bite they’ve shared, and very pleased with her suddenly caustic, Black Swan-like turn.

    In conclusion, the reason this is a better movie than INCEPTION about the process of making movies/art is that it states the ballet company’s opening day for Swan Lake is February 12, which is Darren Aronofsky’s birthday.

  48. nabroleon dynamite

    January 9th, 2011 at 6:45 am

    Does anybody get the idea that Aronofsky works with the same movie blueprint?


    In Pi dude drills himself in the head. In Requiem dude keeps sticking needles in his rotted arm. In Swan shorty stabs herself in the gut with a sharp piece of mirror.

    Head, Arm, Torso…

    Expect The Wolverine to stab himself in the leg before end credits.


    As for The Fountain, I have tried to watch that shit like 4 billion and 18 times and something better always came up. (usually sleep)

    Black Swan seemed to me to be a mash up of Carrie + All Aronofsky’s Previous Shit.

    If a hand had shot up from out of her stomach wound and grabbed the ballet director dude by the throat this shit would be a classic!!

  49. nabroleon dynamite

    January 9th, 2011 at 6:50 am


    I can’t spell SPOILER ALERT!!!

  50. nabroleon dynamite

    January 9th, 2011 at 7:18 am

    @Mouth. Since Valentine’s Day is on a monday, me and my bitch (so glad she will never see that) will be doing our romance thang on Aronofsky’s born day.
    Maybe I can convince her and her ghetto booty home girl to go ass to ass with a dildo in his honor.

  51. Well, that sounds romantic.

  52. Quite the bonding experience. Who says movies can’t help influence ideas that keep relationships healthy?

  53. In conclusion, go see BLADES OF GLORY again.

  54. I don’t think Aronofsky IS going to kill Wolverine, because the movie’s based on 80s Miniseries story set in Japan, and one of the post-credits scenes for the first Wolverine movie has him there, so I can imagine them just picking up at that point and making a solo Wolverine story part of his backstory, since the X-Men didn’t figure into it that much in the comics.

  55. Stu – If you want my theory: Darren A. is using the Wolverine/X-Men as an excuse to make his own macho, gung-ho samurai actioneer.

    Because this was the same guy who once wrote that joblo.com article where he bemoaned the lost “action heroes” of the 80s/90s of a Norris or Seagal or Van Damme or whatever when karate/kickboxing/martial arts masters were put in movies, acting not the first concern. Unlike now when a Liam Neeson or Matt Damon in blockbusters train and exercise to look like they can kick ass and chew gum.

  56. He said it would be it’s own stand alone thing which is good. He could focus it on being the best Aronofsky action movie it could be. Instead of trying to make it fit with all those other horrendous X-Men movies. I did like the comic books but the movie’s sucked as NONE of them lived up the epic potential of the property.

    I skipped Wolverine assuming it’d be more of the same and from what I hear it was. I will see the new one for the stand alone reason though and well cause it’s fucking Aronofsky. I’d see a movie about old ladies knitting if he ever made it cause I know there will be some first class filmatism involved in the process.

  57. Word, Broddie. Dude’s batting 1.000 so far, in my opinion.

    Mr. Darren Aronofsky will put “Da man” in “adamantium.”

  58. I’m ashamed of myself for ^that^. {hangs head}

  59. “Unlike now when a Liam Neeson or Matt Damon in blockbusters train and exercise to look like they can kick ass and chew gum.”
    As a former amateur Ulster boxing champion, Neeson probably doesn’t need to train to look like he can kick your ass.

  60. I’ve never seen Liam Neeson chew gum, though.

  61. Stu – I thought you were kidding, but jesus you’re right. Which makes me wonder why he didn’t just beat those Nazis up in SCHINDLER’S LIST. He’s got no excuse now. Voldermort isn’t as tough as he looks.

    Mouth – We recycle a retarded Internet meme and surround it around a random guys…..like Mr. Neeson.

    LIAM NEESON FACT: Liam Neeson doesn’t chew gum. He swallows and farts a bubble.

  62. Definitely some interesting ideas being tossed around here. I basically enjoyed BLACK SWAN myself, but also felt disappointed by it (maybe due to overhype). Honestly, I had dismissed the film as an entertaining misfire and hadn’t given it much thought, but the obvious passion of the film’s fans has made me give it some more consideration.

    After thinking it over, I think I have two major reasons why the film felt disappointing. One is more a matter of function, the other more a matter of theme. SPOILERS.

    1) As Mr. Subtlety mentioned, I found there to be a distinct lack of ambiguity to the film. I don’t mean lack of subtlety; Aronofsky has almost always been a strikingly unsubtle director, and usually in a good way. I just mean that, in a movie about the subjective experience of a character losing her mind, Aronofsky makes too much of an effort to delineate between what is real and what isn’t. I find movies about descents into madness to be much more effective when the line between what’s real and what isn’t is less clear to the audience. (A good example might be Herzog’s AQUIRRE THE WRATH OF GOD). But I don’t think for one moment we’re ever lead to believe that these things are actually happening to Portman, we know that it’s all in her head. And the few times something is unclear, Aronofsky goes out of his way to explain it after the fact (Portman & Kunis’s tryst, Portman’s “murder” of Kunis near the end of the film). As a result, there’s just no mystery to the film; it’s about insanity (to some extent), and yet it makes everything too tidy, with too many one-to-one explanations of all the stranger parts of the film.

    2) It’s a film about an artist, but it forgets the art. I think Vern’s right when he says “I think it argues that pushing yourself to the limits of perfection can be painful and self-destructive, but maybe worth it.” The problem is that the film gives us a great sense of Portman’s turmoil, but little sense of the final result, the supposed great art. It’s a little navel gazing in the sense that it focuses on the suffering of the artist, and little on the final product. A lot has been said about Portman doing a lot of intensive, real life training in order to make a more convincing ballerina. I’ll be honest: I couldn’t tell the difference, could you? There’s a lot of lip service about Portman’s character having to learn to let go in order to dance like the black swan, but no matter how many scenes there were of Cassell yelling at Portman to do it better, the film didn’t familiarize the audience with the dance enough so that we could distinguish between a good performance and a bad one. This is highlighted by the fact that Aronofsky often films Portman’s dances in close up… on her face and not her body. Especially during the finale. This leads to a lot of cool, energetic camera work, but also little sense of the dance itself and how it looks. He’s concerned with showing the emotion on her face (and it’s an excellent performance on her part), and not so much on helping us understand her art.

    Anyways, it sounds like there’s a lot of people who saw more in this film than I did, so I’m curious to hear others’ takes on my criticisms.

  63. Dan, I think the filmmakers wanted to avoid having a “big game” climax, making the end of the last act too much like the end of a feel-good sports movie or the end of a struggling high school pageant story.

    Pulling off a badass ballet performance on film isn’t as intrinsically exciting as watching a grand slam/15th round knockout/more standard show-stopping dance & music number. Not only would it have added to the tightly measured run time of BLACK SWAN, but the film’s non-ballet-expert audiences would have seen it and been like, “Meh, that was supposed to be perfect art?”

    To me, the momentum of the movie up to opening day never felt like it was headed that way. And if Aronofsky had intended everyone to see the company’s performance of Swan Lake as an unimpeachably perfect production, the focus on Nina as an individual would have been muddled by a focus on the execution of the whole ballet. As it is, we see, no, we *move as & inhabit* Nina as White Swan, and on opening night she fucks up & literally falls, hitting rock bottom or finally reaching that cathartic transformative point while everyone watches. She doesn’t realize it’s her low point, and the end of White Swan’s existence, until she gets away from the audience.

    Retreating to the dressing room to change & apply Black Swan makeup leads her to finally take action and kill that person (in the mirror, if you will) who represents rock bottom/childhood/weakness/innocence. That she also kills the one who she (delusionally?) believes or has been told is the true, rightful Black Swan appears to be an active, forward-thinking move for Nina. Hey, earlier she even told Mommy that she’s moving out of the apartment-prison; she’s making progress. But then we see that such a bold step as killing Lily, such a forcibly assertive act of self-improvement, is in fact semi-accidental self-inflicted destruction as well.

    Nina then gives an awesome performance, conveying as much with her amazingly expressive back muscles as with her devilish eyes, as the Black Swan; she becomes Black Swan, and then becomes White Swan one last time so that she can kill White Swan in front of the audience. And this time it’s definitely not the guy’s fault she fell.

    Within one performance, she has reached the lowest lows and the highest highs. “I was perfect.” In my opinion, there’s not supposed to be anything subtle about this perfection.


    If I’ve talked myself in circles, then so be it. I “get” this movie, yet I know that because I “get it” I’ll never be able to articulate why I get it. There’s so much there, yet even with all the apparent layers of meaning & meta-meanings it seems so simple and forthright. I do not find its lack of subtlety a reason to dislike it. I’m impressed with the movie because it scared me and because I felt like it wasn’t made for the purpose of being impressive.


    As Hamlet said, “Words, words, words.”

    As Rothko said when pressed to explain his arguably baffling, arguably simplistic, and certainly remarkable paintings, “The silence is so accurate.”

  64. Mouth,

    I certainly understand just “getting” a movie, and I hope I’m not compelling you to overarticulate your more abstract feelings about the film. Please don’t take any of my comments as an attack on your fandom.

    You make a fair point that the finale should not focus on the entire ballet, and the ballet troupe was not the focus of the film. However, Nina and her obsessive strive for perfection WAS a focus, and I think Aronofsky owed us a better sense of the ballet (or, at least, her actual dance in it) and what bad dancing versus good dancing actually looked like. (Cassell’s character keeps telling Nina that she’s not dancing right, but I could honestly never tell the difference.) I don’t need feel-good sports movie ending, but I do think we should have actually been allowed to clearly see Nina’s supposedly amazing dance. If Aronofsky is saying that great sacrifices can yield great art, we need to see the art, too.

    Instead, he focuses on just the artist. Literally. He films that finale mainly in close up, so we have a good look at Nina’s focus and determination but not at her dance. Like I said before, I find it a little solipsistic that Aronofsky chooses to focus so much on the suffering of the artist and not on what all that suffering was for.

  65. Watched the Golden Globes and something struck me…what’s up with Aronofsky’s creepy paedo ‘tache?

  66. It takes a great man to pull off a bad mustache.

  67. I just remember the “80s was the best decade” conversation from THE WRESTLER and wonder if Aronofsky is trying live that by copying MAGNUM PI’s look. Maybe he should do a modern update of that as a movie, and try to make it weird and creepy, and end in the middle of a shot of him jumping into his convertible.

  68. What an amazing movie! It reminded me a lot of Opening Night, another of my favorite movies.

    One thing kind of puzzled me though. Does the audience really go nuts when they experience a great performance in a ballet? They were like hollering and screaming after her final performance. That seemed kind of weird.

    I agree that the movie was very literal, but that never bothered me. I found the ending very ambigiuos, though. I don`t care if she really stabbed herself or imagined it, but the director started calling her “my little princess”, like he called Winona, before she went nuts and stabbed herself in the face. I`m not really keen on thinking too much about this movie, I enjoyed it far too much to analyze it to death, but I found it kind of sad that she finally realized herself, only to become another broken puppet in the directors career.

  69. First of, y’all do the best talkback on the internet. Productive, open, impassioned, all that shit, Vern must be very proud of the vast archive and awesome community he’s built over the years. Holla! I hope its not presumptuous to visit this stupid-long post upon the board. WITH SPOILERS!

    So I had to turn off lurk mode for this one, I really loved this movie and am itching to talk about it. Now. I don’t know Natalie Portman, but like most super star celebrities I have some rough impression in my head of what I think she’s like. You know, Tom Cruise is a dick, George Clooney is funny, Geena Davis is smart, all those little tidbits. Of course we know nothing about these people, BUT, since they are actors and already play the game of giving you an artificial-but-still-sort-of-real window into their souls I think its natural that our culture and media fixates on the personal lives of these people.

    So in the case of Portman, I always felt like she was this sort of privileged, aloof sort of lady. Because of her educational background, because of how she spoke about her educational background in an interview here or there, etc. The sort of broad, assumptive impression one gets of a celebrity.

    So I was ripe to really dislike this movie. Here’s one self-obsessed, shit-don’t-stink artist (Aranofsky, creater of colossally indulgent OH MY GOD CAN YOU BELIEVE I’M SHOWING YOU THIS movies like Requiem and The Fountain (which I love) and….Pi?) finding his muse in another preening, shit-don’t-stink artist (Nat)? And makes movie about the same? It also sounds really defensive and trite when you put it like that.

    A few commenters have indicated that, although viscerally effective, it was a lot of dressing up of some sort of triteness such as I have described. I SERIOUSLY disagree. This is not what you are invested in while watching the film. Recall that besides these seriously operatic levitating-monk, monster fridge, blood-wiped-on-map, double-swan-shadow, triple-matching shot stunts that Aranofsky pulls, he has always been a master of tension and release without needing gimmick to match. I’m talking about the supermarket drug deal that goes awry in Requiem, the meat-slicer-punching in The Wrestler, and in the case of Black Swan well, the whole feckin’ movie right?

    The whole thing is so immersive. I wasn’t concerned about the various baggage I may have with Ms. Portman or Mr. Aranofsky. I was Nina and was consummed by her fears and desires. When Cassel grabs her tits and crotch, its less the voyeurism you would expect from seeing Portman in such a scene; you feel this guy’s seduction. Ditto the first masturbation scene and realizing who’s in the room! You feel like you were masturbating in front of your mom, not like “aww man, bitch interrupted the Padme masturbation scene”. Well, that’s how it happened for me anyway.

    The stakes are so fucking high in this film, the circumstances so, uh, fell. (YEAH!). When the movie finally begins to achieve transcendence/sublimity I felt like I was on another planet! I think it sucks that some of you guys couldn’t loose yourselves in the picture; really the Cassel character would admonish you…for me this is the culmination of the operatic romanticism of the likes Paul Thomas Anderson and Guillermo del Toro. If you had told me ten years ago it was possible to make movies this colorful and vivacious I wouldn’t have believed it.

    And lastly: “The problem is that the film gives us a great sense of Portman’s turmoil, but little sense of the final result, the supposed great art.” I can’t imagine how somebody could have this perspective. Were you taking a leak during the part where she turned into the the black swan?

    Recall how, in its brief image of the dancer taking flight and reaction shot of the gasping father who finally understands his son’s art, the ending of Billy Elliot captured the ephemeral poetry of ballet without a bunch of expository choreography. Aronofsky’s finale is orders of magnitude more fully realized.

  70. Yeah, what renfield said.

  71. renfield,

    “Were you taking a leak during the part where she turned into the the black swan?”

    It’s a cool visual representation of what’s going on inside of Nina at that moment, but we the audience can’t actually tell if her dance is really that great. I mean, Aronofsky obviously indicates that Nina believes she has attained the perfection, and the audience at the ballet is rapturous, but we the audience watching the movie aren’t shown enough to judge for ourselves if she’s really achieved anything.

    I think it detracts from the film overall. Imagine if the film involved a different art form. Let’s say, instead, Nina was an actress who has a mental breakdown pushing herself to give an incredible performance. Imagine this film builds to a climax where Nina gives the supposed performance of a lifetime, and all the other characters indicate that she’s amazing, except when the time comes for the performance, we are only shown in it some obscured way, say from afar and with no sound. It might make the film feel a little underwhelming or like it can’t back up its own claims. Substitute pretty much any other artist (author, director, painter, etc) and I think it’s the same.

    I know not everyone will agree with me, but I felt, especially considering I know little to nothing about ballet, that BLACK SWAN owed us a little more of a tutorial on the ballet itself. It spends a lot of time telling us that Nina can’t dance the black swan, and then later indicates that she did, but never shows us her dance in a way such that we’d understand the difference.

  72. I’m with Renfield on that one. I don’t know anything about ballet either, so if they had been literal about it and somehow got Portman to perform the “perfect” version of Swan Lake I wouldn’t know the difference. To depict it in such a visual, visceral way makes me feel it and understand it. It’s the highlight of the movie I think.

  73. That’s a fair point. I do understand what everyone else liked about it. Again, it just gets at what I mentioned earlier: it’s all about the artist and not so much the art, which I find a little naval gaze-y on Aronofsky’s part. The film emphasizes the experience of the artist but pays only lip service to the art itself; I would have liked a little more give and take. I would have personally appreciated the film more if it HAD shown me more about Swan Lake and helped me understand it, but I get why that didn’t mater as much to others.

  74. Dan,

    ANY time another art form is successfully portrayed on film, they don’t just give you the tutorial, they use the tools of artifice at the medium’s disposal. Are you suggesting a music video would better represent the soul of a song if it instructed you on how to play it? A film might represent an author’s imagination with an animated sequence, not, like, struggling with the syntax of a particular sentence in his fourth edit.

  75. Again, Natalie Portman’s upper-back muscles tell all.

  76. Oh, yeah, dna: **Does the audience really go nuts when they experience a great performance in a ballet? They were like hollering and screaming after her final performance. That seemed kind of weird.**

    I’ve been to many ballets & operas & symphony performances & recitals in multiple cities and yes, even those overdressed, highfalutin audiences do react with loud, borderline out of control applause when greatness happens onstage. In my college years, I was the purely art-loving, high-as-shit dude floating above the elitist fray whenever I entered the performance space. Before I hit it big in the stock market, I was especially grateful for my student-priced ticket, and I felt a tad overwhelmed by the feeling of being surrounded by elders rocking pearls, diamonds, and cashmere the way I rocked duct tape on my sandals. So I was always too shy to be the first to rise to my feet & holler “Bravo,” but it happens a lot.

  77. renfield,

    Obviously that’s not what I’m saying. I understand your point about translating the art to fit the medium, but let’s not forget that film is, in part, a medium that records other art forms, and is fully capable of showing us a ballet. I’m not saying we needed to be shown Swan Lake step for step or go into excruciating detail, but I for one would have appreciated a better sense of the ballet than the film provides, and clearer examples of “good” versus “bad” dancing that weren’t entirely based on the emotions of Portman’s character.

    To cite a very corny example, in MUSIC & LYRICS, Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore write a pop song together. Not only do we, the audience, get to watch them struggle through writing it, but eventually we actually get the hear the song and judge their accomplishment (it’s pretty catchy). The filmmaker doesn’t show us a montage of them singing the song set to another song, never let us hear the song, and then have other characters tell us that it’s a good song. We actually get to hear it.

    I think folks have made a good case for why they don’t think its necessary to see the ballet in BLACK SWAN, or like you said, that Nina turning into the swan effectively takes its place. But for me, there’s something about the way Aronofsky focuses on the artist and not the art that I object to. I still actually like the movie quite a bit, but its closed-off, kinda solipsistic take on its subject doesn’t sit well with me. In that sense, it reminds me of another movie I didn’t care for that a lot of other people I know love: SYNECDOCHE NY.

    To my tastes, you can do it two ways: you can have the characters make the art and let the audience see the art too (MUSIC & LYRICS), or you can have the artist make the art and deliberately withhold the art from the audience (LA BELLE NOISEUSE), depending on what’s appropriate to the film. I kinda felt like BLACK SWAN had its cake and ate it too, purporting to be about the creation of something perfect and great without really giving us its perfectness or greatness.

  78. I thoroughly disliked SYNECDOCHE, NY, a big step backward for Kaufman, in my opinion. Talk about a “meaningless” film. . .

    Your complaints, Dan, remind me of the weaknesses of a lesser movie, FINDING FORRESTER, the story of a bunch of writers and academia types, which never quite managed to give a full sense of the lead characters’ literary output.

    Oddly, somehow your claim of a form of solipsism enhances my memory of BLACK SWAN. SYNECDOCHE, NY’s weakness was its

  79. apparent striving for universality. Fuck that. BLACK SWAN’s ultimate message is effortlessly universal.

  80. Dan-

    I think the movie you wanted to see would’ve been impossible to make. How the hell is Aronofsky supposed to educate a general audience to appreciate the subtleties of an entire art form within the space of 90 minutes? I’m pretty sure if Cassel’s character stepped out of the screen with a copy of “the idiots guide to ballet” and a DVD of swan lake it’d take longer than 90 minutes to get me to the point where I could recognize a perfect performance when I saw one.
    Even if he managed it, Aronofsky would then have to get an actual genius-level perfect ballet performance out of Portman (or a stand in) for the movie to work -anything less and the whole thing falls apart.

    All this reminds me of that Sorkin TV show “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”. That show didn’t work precisely because they attempted what you say you wanted from BLACK SWAN. Sorkin had all these characters wandering around having deep as fuck conversations about the importance of comedy and it’s impact on culture but when we actually got to see the show-within-the show, it was just OK – which completely fucked everything up because it made the characters seem like a bunch of ridiculous, pretentious arseholes.

  81. Mode7,

    I don’t want to sound like a broken record here, I’m sure everyone’s already totally bored with my argument (and I’m probably not articulating it well anyway). But let me reiterate that I didn’t expect Aronofsky to school me on the intricacies of ballet, just that I think a little more information than he provided would have been more enlightening and, for me at least, would have improved the film and given it more impact. I don’t think it’s in any way unprecedented for a film to teach us a little about whatever subject its ostensibly dealing with.

    Or think of it like a heist film: the heist is a lot more effective if the filmmakers take the time to explain the plan to the audience beforehand, that way we understand what works and what doesn’t when the plan is actually enacted.

    Still, I don’t want to just harp on this one point, especially since I have an overall favorable opinion of BLACK SWAN, even if it didn’t quite live up to its potential (in my view).


    I LOVED this movie. I knew I would enjoy it, but I didn’t know how amazingly tense and scary it would be. I can not remember a movie filling me with a bigger sense of DREAD as this thing did. It was one big slow mind fuck of an experience.

    Starting with Winona Ryder stabbing herself in the face through Natalie Portmans moms paintings screaming at her(the hairs on my neck were standing straight up by that point) to the point where her legs transformed and she passed out. That sequence, for me, is the scariest few minutes in film I’ve ever seen. When she’s in the kitchen and she turns off the light, then hears something, you know she’s going to see something fucked up when she turns that light back on, and of course she does, but It still scared the shit out of me.

    Portman should win an Oscar for her performance. Some of her scenes were so intense and moving It really made me feel for her character. The scene where she has just found out she will be the Swan Queen and she runs to the bathroom to call her mom. There is so much emotion pouring out of her, I wanted to reach in and hug her, I felt so happy for her.

    During the scene where Mila Kunis is going down on Portman an older woman a few rows down from us got up and walked away, her husband waited around about 30 secs before leaving too. I thought that was great.

    I haven’t posted here much in a few months cause well some of you guys are way more versed and better at expressing your opinions than me and I feel intimidated putting my mediocre opinions out but what the fuck we can’t all be Mouths and Mr M’s and or S’s.

  83. dieselboy, I think what you say in your first 3 paragraphs here, especially the “sense of DREAD” and the “scared the shit out of me” parts, is pretty much word for word what I said over a pitcher or 3 with my friends just after seeing BLACK SWAN the first time.

    That is pretty hilarious about the husband finishing the sex scene before following his woman out. In certain settings, I would have given that guy the slow clap as he went up the aisle.

    If it makes you feel any better, I’ll soon be taking a long business trip followed by a vacation, so I’ll stop clogging things up here for a while. It’s not my fault I’m addicted to the BADASS CINEMA community. Thanks for the compliment.

    Now go away; no one cares what you say, plebeian boy.

  84. I’m a little surprised about the love for this film, I thought it was quite a silly film masquerading as a smart film. Also, a quite frustrating one in that I found myself getting lost in the actual drama and then getting pulled out by the over-the-top symbolism and the The Fly-type mutations (the legs and the neck just looked ridiculous). I’m shocked that anyone in a cinema would be whispering questions to each other when things were hammered home so much. It seemed we got at least five shots of Portman’s split image reflected in mirrors in the first ten minutes. The breakdown parts just seemed to be bad versions of Polanski’s Repulsion and The Tenant, thirty + years too late. Portman was fantastic enough for a lot of this stuff to be told from her expressions and reactions.

    I should add that I saw this the day after 127 Hours, which while having a different context, showed a character falling apart in a way that drew me in rather than turning me off, even with a creepy Scooby Dooby Doo cameo.

  85. I haven’t read all of the above, so apologies if someone else has mentioned this, but…

    … has anyone else come across the theory that the fucked-up relationship between Nina and her mother might be even more so? That Barbara Hershey is actually molesting her, and has been for years?

    I mean, her mental breakdown could be equally attributed to the ex-ballerina-pushiness of the parent, but I did find their relationship (no locks on the doors, stuffed pink toys in the room, other creepy details) to be a very uncomfortable one to watch.

    I thought it was really good, by the way. Oodles of Cronenberg in there, as you said Vern. And a fair dash of Argento.

  86. Sorry to bring this up after the whole PUMPKINHEAD/RAXHEAD REX debacle, but it’s actually a guy giving the glowing head in the Love Hotel scene – the same guy who sold Oscar out to the cops. So we see what he gets for finking; he’s blowing Japanese businessmen with illuminated penises in the Love Hotel.

    Actually there may have been a girl giving glowing head too, I can’t remember.

    Great movie tho – best of the year next to MACGRUBER.

  87. Whoops – I meant to put this in the ENTER THE VOID review! Don’t know how that happened. Don’t be confused people: there are only a few glowing dicks in BLACK SWAN.

  88. At the end of the day, here’s what I’ve decided.

    I think the movie is vague enough that you can interpret the ending however you want.

    Frankly, I think the easiest – and thus lamest – ending is if she really dies at the end after literally stabbing herself at some point during the performance. After all the tug of war, the drawn out imaginary angst, the small steps to break free of her prim nature, etc, it just seems a cop out to think she dies bleeding on the mattress surrounded by the company as the audience cheers orgasmically (pun intended).

    To me, it’s much better if the ending is metaphorical. I see the film being about her as an artist giving in – or letting herself go. She ultimately performs the role perfectly by allowing her angst to work for her, letting the illusion drive her performance. In doing so, she executes flawlessly, from the skittish white swan in the first act, fully transforming to the evil, sexually dominant black swan in the second act, then reverting back to the frightened, anguished white swan for the finale.

    So I choose to see the ending as her laying there letting the self-induced hallucination play out . . . “bleeding” out, knowing she gave the perfect performance.

    For me that works. Otherwise, it just feels like a cop out and cheapens everything leading up to it.

    Other than that, I have to say I like the comment about the mother. That would certainly explain the driven need Nina has to devise a way of blocking the door. That never even occurred to me.

  89. Can’t say I agree with this one. I didn’t see the beauty in it that everyone else did.

    To me, it was just the movie Showgirls (which I liked better, haha!), with a psychopath instead of a sociopath. At least in Showgirls, the conflict was real, and not imagined.

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