David and Lara’s Reviews of Black Swan

19 Jan

David’s Review

I have seen Black Swan. I was nervous about seeing it, but I did it anyway. Why was I nervous? It’s a Darren Aronofsky film. And while I am usually awed and amazed by his films, I also am usually filled with something close to dread immediately before entering and right after I leave the theater. It is a battle of the senses.

I first saw Requiem for a Dream when I was in high school. It was one of the most emotionally overwhelming films I had seen up to that point in my life. It was absolutely amazing. The introspective intrigue, fear, and awe it made me feel were things that a film had never brought out before. And when it was over, I decided that I would probably never see it again. Why? Because I did not enjoy it. And while I will go see a movie once for art’s sake, I won’t watch it a second time unless I actually enjoyed the experience.

Black Swan is, without a doubt, art beyond entertainment. It might be the most artistic film of this last year. It is amazing in almost every way and there is not a single thing wrong with the movie, except that I was happiest when it was over.

Let me explain. Black Swan is the story of Nina, a young ballerina trying to be successful in the competitive world of modern ballet. After impressing her company’s director, she is given the part of both the White Swan and the Black Swan in the company’s upcoming production of Swan Lake. While Nina is perfect for the role of the White Swan, she lacks the passion needed to embrace the role of the Black Swan. This becomes an even bigger issue when she’s introduced to Lily (Mila Kunis), who is a perfect fit for the Black Swan. The rest of the movie is seen through Nina’s possibly insane perspective. And, let me tell you, it is disturbing.

Nina in madness.

It is even more unsettling because of how well done it all is. It’s amazing. Natalie Portman gives one of the best performances, not just of her career, but that I’ve ever seen. Darren Aronofsky blends the skills that he has so deftly shown us before to perfection. He tells us a heart-wrenching story and does it in a way that reaches deep into your psyche and strangles it.

The camera glides through scenes like a ballet dancer. The lights hide just the things that would confirm or deny insanity. The characters confirm and then deny reality. Ultimately, Aronofsky has concocted a cinematic formula where dark characters with deep and unhealthy personal fixations are woven into a beautifully sad story and filmed like it were a dream, and perfected it.

I think my friend Mitch gave the best review of this film to me as we were leaving the theater. He said, “That was a perfect picture of personal obsession, but you could just as easily watch Heavyweights.”

Lara’s Review

I’m not going to say much about Black Swan because David pretty much covered all the need-to-knows: it is spectacular, Natalie Portman gives her best performance to date, and Aronofsky is exceptional at what he does, though what he does is customarily challenging to take in. Where I differ from David is in his opinion that it is a One Time Only Movie. I have watched several films that I thought were brilliant, but would never watch again: The Last King of Scotland, Trainspotting, Requiem for a Dream, etc. Black Swan, for me, does not make that list.

Yes, it is disturbing. In more ways than one. First, there’s the physical transformation. In a very Fly-like manner, Nina’s, body falls apart; she loses fingernails, rips apart skin, bleeds, and develops growths (I will no say no more so as not to spoil). Secondofly, there’s the high sexual content. Attempting to embody the Black Swan, Nina gets in touch with her sexuality, and in touch with anyone else’s sexuality that will take her. Lastly, there is the inner-battle. Nina sees herself on other people, encounters pictures that come to life, and cannot tell dreams from reality—and it gets pretty gruesome.

Aronofsky never shies away. He (along with cinematographer, Matthew Libatique) puts the viewer in the midst of the action. The camera follows the movements of the dance, as well as the descent into madness. It is also true of all of his other films: he will not pull the camera away, the viewer is meant to experience every bit of the character’s horrible happenings, in the most gritty way possible. This goes along with Aronofsky’s inability to be subtle. Nina, who is meek and innocent, is always wearing light colors, Lily, who is wild and erotic, is always dressed in black. After a night of embracing the Black Swan, Nina’s toy ballerina is laying limbless on the floor. GET IT? But that’s okay. One doesn’t see an Aronofsky film for subtlety; they see it for the carnal visuals and story.

As soon as the film was over, my initial feeling was of relief. That, apparently, was true of everyone else in the theater, as there was a smattering of laughter as the credits began rolling. It was that stifled, wow-we-survived-that kind of laughter. Not to mock, but to relieve the tension. However, after the immediate alleviation, I grew more intrigued. Even more intrigued than I was before watching the film. I wanted to see it again. Why is it that it’s usually the most disturbing films that we immediately want to re-watch? Maybe that’s not true for most people, but it certainly is for me. I need an anxious-free viewing. I want to see camera tricks I didn’t before. I want to better appreciate the talent of the actors. I want to really hear Clint Mansell’s score. I want to better understand Nina.

Black Swan is not a film for everyone. It is highly sexualized, stylized, and forceful. For some people seeing it once will be enough. For others, a life without seeing it will be ideal. For me, it is a cinematic masterpiece that I will enjoy not enjoying occasionally forever. If that makes any sense.

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3 Responses to “David and Lara’s Reviews of Black Swan”

  1. moviegeek January 19, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    I Loved Black Swan
    Not for everyone, but beautifully filmed and acted.
    My review: http://wp.me/s19wJ2-17

  2. breadtobeeaten January 21, 2011 at 3:55 am #

    Um… this is I think the best film I’ve seen in my entire Peace Corps service. I totally agree that this is cinematic art at it’s finest. I am somewhere in between both of you in that I don’t know if I could watch it again, but I want to watch it in analysis now rather than purely as story. I loved what you said, David, about the camera moving as a dancer. So true. I loved that we heard her breathing as she danced, putting us more intimately there with her in her struggle for perfection. And by god, Natalie Portman is AMAZING in this, not just the best of her career, but likely the best of most anyone’s. It’s up there with Charleze Theron’s Aileen Wournos or Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview… a performance I’ll be thinking about for a long, long time.

  3. carly cram January 29, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    I agree. I walked out of the theater feeling really inspired but if someone ask me why, I couldn’t really put a finger on it. It was like my life changed but in such a strange way. that doesn’t happen often in movies, I think.

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