Saturday, May 7, 2011

My take on Black Swan

I realize I'm about the last person on the planet to have seen this movie, which is surprising given that I'm a total sucker for dance movies (especially ballet) and fairy tale movies (especially weird and dark versions). But, I also think seeing movies in theaters is expensive and time consuming so I wait for them to come out on video.

SO. When other people would see the movie, the only comment I really heard was, "It's really dark," which is kind of obvious from the trailer. But there are different kinds of dark.

Overall, I would have to say I was disappointed in the movie. It was confusing to the point of being frustrating, instead of thought provoking. You never knew what was real and what wasn't, except that Nina goes crazy. And there was no discernable message, at least that I found, though there were potential themes to be developed-the pressures on a professional dancer, creepy unhealthy mother/daughter relationships, growing from innocence to maturity-only nothing was quite realistic enough to have depth. That last theme, the innocent white swan verses seductive black swan, was almost beat over our heads, much like in the SNL parody of this movie (in general I don't find SNL that funny, but i've watched this sketch multiple times...). Nina=innocent=wears only white all the time. Lily=seductive=wears only black all the time. Nina went from complete extreme to extreme-being treated like/acting like a five year old, to being a crazy psychotic murderer-if she did indeed murder Lily. Still confused about that part.

There's a lot of graphic sexual content, and while it's not exactly violent there are a lot of wince moments as she pulls strips of skin off her finger or weird feather-like things out of her back or slams the door on her mom's fingers (totally saw that one coming). I personally would have preferred more dancing and less orgy, and more connections to the story itself, but that's personal preference. There is supposedly a connection to the plot of the ballet, but the white swan doesn't actually turn into the black swan, she is simply danced by the same dancer to make the enchantment convinving. Nina says in the movie that the white swan kills herself because her man fell for the wrong girl, which isn't exactly true. Seigfried honestly thought Odile was Odette, and afterwards, I've always understood that they decide to die together rather than stay under Rothbart's power. So I would hardly call one dancer's journey into Crazy Town a parallel to Swan Lake.

When I heard about Natalie Portman training for years for this movie I was excited to witness, potentially, a movie with good dancing and good acting at the same time, which would be a rarity. There was certainly dancing, and what you could see was good, but a lot of it was a closeup of her face and focused on more of the acting aspects of dancing. I'd be interested to hear what real dancers thought of the movie. I feel like choreographers really are way more interested in technique than sexual appeal.

A lot of movie critics and reviewers disagree with me (I avoid reviews until after writing my own so as not to have biases.) Many people see this as a work of genious and they are very possibly correct. What did you think of the movie, those of you who saw it? It's definitely not for the faint of heart. Maybe my expectations were too high. If you want in depth explorations of the plot of Swan Lake, I recommend Mercedes Lackey's Black Swan (totally unrelated to the movie), or even Tanith Lee's short story found in Red as Blood (both versions also dark and sexual, but have a little more meaning, I think) . If you want a gritty, creepy, sexed up Natalie Portman, watch this movie. (It should be noted that she did an excellent job.)

And how appropriate that I draft this on Tchaikovsky's birthday?


  1. I didn't like the movie either, it really was just too confusing and more interested in sex scenes than dance scenes. I feel it really could have been something deep and great but fell short every time it seemed to reach there.

    I think the murder of Lily was imagined, making it all the weirder given how she was so calm about it after and freaked out to see her alive rather than weird. Given how vulnerable and innocent Nina started out of this transformation was too sudden.

    It had its pros but not enough to make me want to watch it again. I too like the darker versions of popular tales but this was just crazy.

  2. I thought you might find this link to a Jungian interpretation of the Black Swan interesting.

  3. March Hare-glad I'm not the only one who felt this way!
    LisaGarden-thanks for the link, it was very enlightening. I found David Pressault's insights as a professional dancer the most interesting-comparing the demanding, controlling, and unnatural nature of ballet itself to Nina's initial state of allowing herself to be controlled, and the bulimia/self-mutilation as a possible result of the severe training which can cause girls to become out of touch with their bodies' basic instincts.
    Many people have come away from the movie with many different insights, which is really the nature of what fairy tales do-they provide a baisc plot upon which you can put your own experiences and create your own interpretation.

  4. I think I was the only one of my immediate circle who did not like this film. I thought it was style over substance. And while I love a story about an actor being transformed and even broken by a role she plays, Black Swan gave no depth to the main heroine. She had an emotional range of a five-year-old and it was really hard for me to sympathize with her. She felt like a cardboard cut out decked out in pastels.

    It's true that different productions have different endings for Swan Lake. But this one felt completely bizarre.

    I find it strange that so many critics praise this film as innovative and deep, while, in fact, it just rehashes old cliches about Madonna/whore, throws some pretty visuals in our face and tries to shock us with graphic scenes.

  5. Style over substance and reaching too far for shock value.