December 13, 2010
Black Swan, ballet horror
I saw Black Swan and liked it very much, though it took me about 24 hours afterwards to calm down enough to figure out why it freaked me out so much. It shouldn't have been surprising: Aronofsky's earlier movies Pi and Requiem for a Dream weren't exactly light entertainment, and though I liked both of those a lot, I never want to see them again.
But other than a shared fixation on icky bodily wounds, which seems to make an appearance in all Aronofsky movies, the one that Black Swan has the most in common with is The Wrestler from last year. The story and themes are really similar (performing artist gives up everything for the pursuit of their art, with catastrophic and glorious results) and there are a few shots and scenes that are almost identical. There's the same total dedication to performance in spite of everything, the same willingness to endure physical and psychic pain, and practically the same tights.
But Black Swan is a horror movie as far as I'm concerned: Natalie Portman goes off the deep end amidst terrifying hallucinations, self-mutilation, and all kinds of scary face-stabbing shit. The whole movie is a "delirious, phantasmagoric freakout", as Manohla Dargis says in her review. And it really made me want to go clubbing with Mila Kunis.
It's got some flaws, though: the dialogue is sometimes weak and occasionally ridiculous, and I really wish the writers had thought of more than one thing for Vincent Cassel, the ballet company's artistic director, to repeat over and over again about the whole white swan/black swan dynamic. Also, when every single time Natalie backs out of a room away from something scary, then turns around and runs smack into something that's also scary, it stops being scary.
But it still got under my skin. I came out of this movie in some kind of unspecified indignant, freaked-out agitation about what happened to poor Natalie. More than anything else, this movie reminded me of Rosemary's Baby, which I group together with The Stepford Wives (also based on a novel by Ira Levin) as nightmare fantasies about What The World Does To Women. I don't know why Ira Levin was so pissed off about our culture's repressive and cruel expectations of women, especially in terms of how women relate to men as wives and mothers, but he sure loved to write really disturbing books about it.
You can take Black Swan as a story about striving for artistic perfection at all costs. But if you take it at face value, it's also about a woman who tries to embody the ideal that women should be good, nice, modest girls, and the ideal that women should be horny sluts, and as a result, goes crazy. Our culture demands both opposing ideals, and tends to punish women who fail to achieve either one. What happens to Natalie when she tries to be both white and black swans is like a bloody, hallucinatory horror vision of how mental all this is.
I'm not the hugest Aronofsky fan, but his movies sure do get me in the guts. Speaking of which, it's probably not a good idea to see this movie if you have an eating disorder.
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