I DON’T SWAN LAKE YOU IN THAT WAY
Black Swan is a strange film to review, mainly because it’s a really strange film. But hey, it’s a Darren Aronofsky movie about ballet, you know you’re not getting The Blind Side. It’s more like the most twisted and psychologically taut episode of Fame you’ll ever see, complete with ecstasy trips and scissoring.
Swan centers on mousy Nina, played by Natalie Portman, one of the top ballerinas at the New York City Ballet, the NFL of professional ballerinery. Aronofsky originally envisioned Black Swan and The Wrestler as one movie, and the way he meticulously recreates all the foot taping, leg warming, toe-cracking action inside the gossipy plié coven is a lot like the gritty locker-room scenes in The Wrestler in its attempt to nail all the little details of a subculture. We catch up with Nina as she competes for the lead role in this season’s production of Swan Lake. To land the part, she’ll have to convince her arrogant, lecherous French (is there any other kind?) director (Vincent Cassel) that she’s capable of playing not only the innocent White Swan, but also her evil twin, the malevolent temptress Black Swan who spreads her greasy swan legs all over town and soon seduces the White Swan’s true love with her sweet swan poon. But how will the innocent, high-strung Nina ever loosen up and discover her dark side? Why, only through an erotic journey of self-discovery full of drugs, self pleasure, and Mila Kunis’ sapphic charms, of course. Dear Penthouse, last night I was completely naked save for a tutu and ball gag….
Black Swan is a tougher film to dissect than, say, The Wrestler, because it’s really not about the characters, their relationship to the world, or some insight into the human condition. If you cut to the heart of it, Black Swan is a movie about being a movie. An entertaining, incredibly well-executed movie about being a movie, but still.
It’s a world unto itself, and I could probably sum up the entire plot in less than six words. But I wouldn’t want my reductive summation to rob you of coming to the same realization on your own. Like some sort of ballerina concubine, that it’s all wrapped up in a neat little package is kind of the point. The only point, really. And I don’t mean that as a criticism. I know I said something similar about 127 Hours being the same kind of directorial show-off piece and used it as a critique, but the difference is, that film was about a dude trapped in a canyon for two hours, this one is about ballet and lesbians.
The key factor in what makes this a better film is that you never know what’s going to happen. With all his creepily-filmed fantasy sequences, Aronofsky goes back to the old did-that-sh*t-really-just-happen-or-was-it-all-in-her-head trick roughly twelve thousand times, in a way that feels like cheating, but totally works. Fantasy sequences are normally about as interesting as your co-worker recounting the dream she just had where she married her cat, because who cares? There aren’t any consequences. Kill a hooker in your dream, kill Hitler, it doesn’t matter, you’re still boring. Aronofsky’s skill is keeping the dreams so foreboding and lurid that they’re compelling in their own right, and the non-fantasies so equally f*cked up that you never quite know what’s what. And yes, Mila Kunis totally mows Natalia Portman’s box in a scene that includes no nudity, but still feels pretty graphic.
Black Swan isn’t The Wrestler, but it’s fun. It’s all about Darren Aronofsky screwing with you, but Darren Aronofsky is much better at screwing with you than most. There’s a scene in which Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman drop ecstasy and go dancing, and it’s so intensely staged that you’ve never wanted to take ecstasy so badly in your life, and not in the usual, house-music-really-sucks-without-drugs kind of way.
So yeah, take some drugs, have a gay experience, make out with a French dude — become the black swan for a while, it’ll be fun.