Black Swan

I saw Black Swan last Friday and as I expected, I enjoyed it immensely. I first heard about it earlier this year when it started making its way to various festivals (where it did very well), and being a huge fan of Aronofsky, I was intrigued. It opened in one theater in Indianapolis (I think), and I ended up going to the second showing which like the first showing, was completely sold out. It’s nice to see interest in a film like this with fairly unconventional storytelling. I think over the weekend it did something like $3.5 million on 90 screens? That seems pretty good to me. Anyway, that doesn’t matter much because I loved it.

I feel like the commercial/trailer that’s playing on tv right now for the more wide release of the film is not doing it justice at all. It makes the film seem like a rather pedestrian horror film and I fear that people will go to see it with completely different expectations and not have a great experience. Darren Aronofsky is one of my very favorite directors, the one whose style I feel most closely matches what I strive for (or would strive for if I shot more stuff). I wonder if there’s going to be a large number of people who enjoy going to Saw 17 or the latest version of Halloween that go see Black Swan and are traumatized by the style or confused by the story conventions…or freaked out by the realistic graphic nature of some of the scenes.

Black Swan is basically the story of the unraveling of Nina’s (Natalie Portman) world as she takes the role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. The theatrical trailer does a pretty good job of setting your expectations for the film. I’m not going to review it because I’m not scholarly enough when it comes to citing film stuff to write a review of any educational value, I’m just going to give you my thoughts and tell you why you should go see it too.

I really enjoyed the verite style of the film. It was truly from Nina’s perspective throughout the entire film and it completely drew you into her world, making the numerous twists of plot even more, em..twisty. And there were a lot of twists. I feel like I can typically predict a plot relatively well, and while I guessed one aspect of the ending with some accuracy, that was the ONLY thing I guessed correctly. The storytelling in this film is amazing to me because you truly see characters in many different ways because the point of view stays with one person. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it almost makes you paranoid because you can’t trust anyone or anything in this film. Another thing I really enjoyed was the movement among the dancers on stage while they were dancing. Being in an audience is one thing, but being right on the stage, moving around and focusing on the faces of the characters is something quite different – Nina especially, who is working so hard to transform herself into the black swan she needs to be. As you move with her and bounce around with the handheld shots (the entire movie being handheld), you can truly feel her struggle.

The subtle visual effects were really well done, I bet many people will never guess they’re there (other than the obvious things that aren’t human in nature). In a film set in the world of ballet, there are many mirrors (which are expertly used symbolically, by the way), but this presents a challenge in filming a scene. Or it used to…now you can shoot whatever you want and your camera crew is magically erased from the mirror. Awesome! The final act of the film has a heavy VFX shot that could easily be really bizarre, but it’s so organic, you’re convinced it’s real (or I was, at least). I think the sound mixing/editing was also extremely well done in this film, and will likely go under appreciated. It helped sell the atmosphere of the film immensely. I also would hope to see the film be recognized for excellence in editing, because one wrong edit would have totally derailed the momentum that made the manic nature of this movie work so well.

Natalie Portman is outstanding. She strikes me as a pretty normal person in real life, and in this film she’s so quiet, sexually repressed, shy, and emotionally weak. Her character’s psychological transformations throughout the film are subtle at times, and prominent (and wild) at others, and so convincing. And the fact she spent so much time and effort on refining her ballet for the role (though the complex shots are face replacement on a real ballerina) makes the role even better. And she lost weight for the role? That’s crazy.Mila Kunis was also excellent. I didn’t feel like it was a big transformation for her to become this character, but it remains a very complex character as well and she pulled it off greatly.
Not that this has anything to do with anything, but I tend to enjoy movies about ballet dancers because I really enjoy ballet, and I even took a ballet class for three years. I don’t have the frame of a natural ballerina so it’s no tragedy I never stuck with it (I had to drop it in high school when I got my first job), but I think like learning an instrument at a young age, it helped me further develop a natural rhythm and understanding of movement that has served me well within editing. Or I like to think that, anyway. I never danced pointe, but I really like ballet…though the only other ballet movie I can think of right now is Centerstage which is the exact opposite of Black Swan in almost every way.

Black Swan is a visceral movie experience, and at the end I was pretty tense. It draws you right in, sticks you in Nina’s mind, chews you up, and spits you out in a ball of WTFness. After the pace of the final act of the film, I felt like I had been running on a treadmill for a while.  I love movies with that kind of raw emotion and twisty narrative, they’re the greatest. I’m really glad this movie managed to work through all of its challenges and get made.