Black Swan: odd bird

Black Swan poster

For the longest time I couldn’t visit the New York Times website without an ad for Black Swan popping up to the right of the article I was reading. Irritating, but it worked. I was intrigued by all the hooplah and finally saw the film.

Thanks for the publicity barrage, everyone must have heard the story, but for those who have somehow escaped it, here it goes: ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a driven, talented artist, but, though well into her twenties, she still lives in her pink-and-white little girl bedroom at her Mom’s apartment. More disturbingly, she suffers from hallucinations and repeatedly harms herself by scratching herself until she bleeds. This is the troubled young woman ballet director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel, appropriately creepy for a Hollywood Frenchman) picks for the plum and highly demanding part of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. Any viewer will surmise things can only go downhill from there for poor Nina. Sure enough, they do, but I was forecasting that she would end up fire bombing the whole ballet company. Spoiler alert: I was wrong, though the ending is by no means happy.

Nina’s hallucinations haunt her through the whole film, and we suffer along. She continues peeling the skin off her back and fingers, which inexplicably goes unnoticed by anyone in the ballet company. She is constantly invited to get in touch with her dark side (echoes of Star Wars?) to play the dual parts of the Swan Queen and Black Swan, and berated for failing. After an hour of this, I was ready to head home, but decided to soldier on. How right I was! I would have missed the scene where Nina finally plays the Dark Swan and a thick black down sprouts over her arms and chest. When she moves away from the camera, one gets the eerie feeling that she is morphing into a gorilla in a tutu. I rubbed my eyes and felt the onset of giggles, but the audience remained absolutely quiet.

I had much enjoyed director Darren Aronofsky’s earlier film Pi for its quirky humor, and wondered whether he was again messing with the viewer in this superlatively campy scene. Possibly, but the film does not otherwise take any distance from its heroine. The story is seen strictly from her point of view, which makes any assessment of the other characters extremely difficult. Is Mom (Barbara Hershey) simply overprotective, or emotionally abusive? Is fellow ballerina Lily (lovely Mila Kunis) honestly trying to be friends, or scheming to destroy Nina to take over as the Swan Queen? Is the much vaunted (and totally unerotic) sex scene between the two ladies real, or Nina’s fantasy? I believe we are supposed to be content with guessing, and in my case I am not sure I cared enough to worry much about it.

This is a problem for a film that has been billed as a “psychological thriller.” It should have begun with a near-normal character and slowly plunged her, and us, deeper and deeper into the world of her nightmares. Here, it is obvious from the outset that Nina is so seriously ill that she has not a chance to pull off the part she has been assigned. It is only a matter of guessing how much damage she will inflict on herself and others. Without suspense, a thriller is not much of a thriller.

Also, and I readily admit that it is personal, I have trouble with films where I cannot find one single likable character. Because we see everyone through Nina’s distorted vision, we perceive all other characters as threatening, malicious, evil. As for Nina herself, I felt sorry for her, but could not identify with. Natalie Portman is beautiful, and manages to convey Nina’s extreme fragility. Yet this tour de force performance is more overwrought than convincing. On many occasions I caught myself thinking “Here’s Natalie trying really, really hard for an Oscar.”

All this work paid off. Ms. Portman was nominated for an Academy Award. Black Swan also garnered nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography  and Best Editing.

natalie-portman-black-swan

Natalie Portman in Black Swan

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58 Comments to “Black Swan: odd bird”

  1. No problem, Elena! I look forward to your own impressions if and when you see it.

  2. Delighted to read your thoughts on this film, Catherine! I am sorry I missed this post earlier!!!!

  3. No!! Surely you are jesting- I don’t know why I don’t just stick a fork in this, it is done!

    And Arnie, perhaps I chose the wrong profession? But you will extend an Honorery Membership in the Big Boys and Girls Club to me I hope! Thank you for the high praise indeed.

  4. Genevieve, did you purchase a Marie-Antoinette fridge magnet there? If so, I hope you treasure and enjoy it!

  5. Hi Catherine , thank you for your comments. I mentioned that link, because there is something in it you reference in your review of the Marie- Antoinette exhibit at the Grand Palais in 2008..I’m being cryptic, I know, but it was a stealth acquisition, and I felt your take on this exhibition’s element interesting, in light of how I had engaged with it.

  6. Genevieve, from my point of view, you not only held your own, you had the better of me in our friendly exchange of different views, so you cannot get away with that “big boys and girls” stuff! ;)

    Cheers, ARNIE

  7. Genevieve, welcome to the joys of blogging! Your site is visually arresting, and I look forward to discovering more…

  8. With your conscientiousness, I am certain you succeed. A bientot, Genevieve

  9. I am not a lawyer, but my father is! Perhaps that was why I was playing ball with the big boys and girls! Arnie, it was a pleasure to meet you, too. I will happily browse your blog, and would be honoured if you would browse my website. It is likely not browsable by google yet– I only submitted the correct HTML files a couple days ago– in error it was stuck on an ineffectual Apple server– but in the meantime, may be accessed through a link on the Tea at Trianon Blog, my Facebook page or Linked-in, or type into the address bar, genevievemontgomery.com. Thank you Arnie for the endearing compliments– you are a lovely man.

    And Catherine, if you go to my site– hit the l’actrice link– hit tragedy link: tell me if there is something in two of the images which is somehow familiar to you.

    Thank you, both, for welcoming me to Lawyer-land. BTW– we jousted with civility; as in the 18th century!

  10. Genevieve, I hope Arnie doesn’t mind if I blow his cover -let’s pause for suspense here- but he is a lawyer too! And sadly you are right, and I’d be very, very surprised if Natalie didn’t get the Oscar as well.
    Arnie, you are always welcome here.

  11. Genevieve,

    Even though I know you were talking to Catherine in that last post, you might not be aware that you were talking to TWO real live lawyers, not just one, and I aspire to the latter part of the description you gave of Catherine as well. ;)

    Cheers, ARNIE

  12. Yes, it was the perfect trial for a narcissist– wasn’t it?! It was all about him! Ron did not count, because he had no connection to O.J. Nicole did not count because she had the nerve to be the white woman he married.

    It is a treat to share this discussion with a real live lawyer! Not only do you possess a keen mind, but moral integrity to go along with it.

    Well of course Natalie Portman won the BAFTA. A study was done which revealed the phenomenon of the Best Actress most often going to women in the prime of their beauty. This is why you will most often witness a seasoned actress, who has given the performance of a Meryl Streep, or a truckload of British actresses other than Helen Mirren, or great veterans lose out to the It Girl.

  13. Genevieve,

    What a brilliant, lovely and generous post! I must thank both you and Catherine (she and I know each other, and have spoken on the phone on several occasions) for allowing me, a man, to engage with you in this way, it really has been fantastic–I raised this same subject in another online setting, because I was eager to get intelligent feedback, and I was met with a deafening silence. You two have raised my consciousness about this subject several notches, and I will be thinking about this conversation for a while to come.

    Cheers, ARNIE

    P.S.: Genevieve, I don’t know if you are interested in Jane Austen, but if you are, please browse in my blog and tell me sometime what you think!

    sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com

  14. Thanks, Genevieve! I too was shocked at the time by the all too easy dismissal of the victims in the OJ case. Who cared? An ex-waitress blonde, and her waiter friend… Disposable people, while OJ was a star.
    And thanks for the reminder. I’d better get going on my review of The King’s Speech before the Oscars sneak up on us. You probably saw it got a truckload of BAFTAs (and BAFTA for best actress in a lead went to Portman, of course).

  15. The O. j. Case, a case essentially about domestic violence, became a case about race, to the exclusion of domestic violence. Early on, Nicole and Ron ceased to be human beings who no longer were. The defense seized upon the issue of race as a strategy, and were able to manipulate the sentiments of the jury to their benefit. As a woman of a similar ethnicity and colouring as Nicole, I felt that racism may have played a role in that O.J. may have unconsciously searched out a white woman to place on a pedestal, only to knock off the pedestal and practically saw her head off. I felt tthe lack of empathy for the victims by the defense and the public to be profoundly disturbing.

    In terms of the controversial scene in “Requiem,” apparently Aronofsky made a remark insinuating that he had witnessed something to that effect and could vouchsafe it’s veracity; while I am not acquainted with the man or his life to indict him as a misogynist, nor can I be certain of how the experience is processed, nor what his intentions as a filmmaker are, I assume one does not stumble accidentally upon such a scene. ( in life, or onscreen.)

    Thank you to you both. It is rare in this day and age to have a debate, particularly over sensitive issues, which is cordial and respectful. Look forward to the upcoming review.

  16. And thanks to you, Arnie, Genevieve and all other commenters for what was indeed a lively conversation. It has deepened my reflexion on this film.

  17. Touche, Catherine, you are indeed correct that my failure to note the gender aspects of the OJ case reveal a gap in my own perceptions.

    And, I might add, that relates to the whole Obama-Hillary drama of 2008. When race and gender both apply in a loaded context, who notices which aspects of it more.

    This has been a stimulating exchange for me, I thank you and Genevieve for your very interesting responses to my various comments.

  18. Arnie, I don’t know Aronofsky, and have no idea whether or not he is a misogynist. So there’s no “:sureness” here on my part. You are the one who wrote that the director was out to “provoke the gender divide.” As for me, I just perceive this film as misogynistic, and can’t relate to a female protagonist whose story perpetuates gender stereotypes.
    About the OJ case, again it is perceived differently by men and women. Sure, the treatment of Black defendants by the justice system is appalling, and the reaction of the Afam community to the case reflected that fact. For women, the case was no less symptomatic: they can be beaten repeatedly for years, as Nicole was, without anyone batting an eye. Hopefully the case was an eye-opener, and law enforcement is now more aware of the fact that wife-beating is not just wholesome fun. The class issue: I have heard some people argue that Nicole, as a former waitress, i.e. White trash, had married up and was therefore fair game for her ex-husband.
    The fact that you see the OJ case solely through the prism of race is indicative of the different ways in which men and women can react to the same situation. :)

  19. Catherine,

    First, I was speculating on a benign motive of Aronofsky, i.e., he wanted both the men and women seeing his film to be struck by the different ways they were responding to the film, and for both men and women to think about how their gender colored their response–i.e., that the men would be provoked into greater sensitivity to stereotypes about women, and that women would be provoked into less sensitivity to seeing stereotypes where perhaps they were not intended.

    And I would give this discussion as Exhibit A for the success of that enterprise, as I certainly have had my sensitivity sharpened–but as to whether it provokes you or Genevieve to wonder whether your sureness that Aronofsky is just a misogynist taunting women, that remains to be seen.

    As for the OJ case, you must know that the reactions of whites and blacks in the US to the innocent verdict in the OJ criminal case was 100% opposite–and the very same questions were raised–whites were generally totally shocked at the black response, because whites had been so profoundly blind to the black experience of criminal “justice” in the US as a tool of oppression of blacks. I believe that most blacks were more sophisticated about all of this, and were just finding satisfaction in seeing white people shocked by an injustice in a criminal trial, a novelty for white people, but all too familiar to blacks.

    So that is the parallel I see.

  20. In which way does this remind you of the OJ case, Arnie? There were so many divides there: gender, of course, but also race and social status.

  21. Genevieve, Arnie, I don’t think this plot would have been possible with a male protagonist. While male creativity or professional drive is sometimes associated, rightly or wrongly, with madness, I don’t remember it being associated with lack of virility. Here, there is much insistence (though the words of Thomas, in particular) on the fact that Nina is not a full-fledged -pray don’t suspect me of a pun- woman, and the film makes it clear that this is related to her artistic career.
    This prevented me, as I suspect it did with other women, from identifying with Nina. I am one of those who want it both… Yes, maybe Aronofsky did it on purpose to antagonize his female audience. To his peril. I, for one, do not intend to bother watching his next film.

  22. I guess sometime I will have to see RFAD. Perhaps I am giving Aronofsky too much of the benefit of the doubt–but perhaps not.

    Regardless of his intent, this movie functions a little like the OJ case, doesn’t it?

  23. “Provoke the gender divide?” Promote the gender divide? Such an original , enlightened idea.
    Perhaps it was intended as a testimonial to his ex-partner and the mother of his child.
    I believe he already provoked the gender divide with his earlier film “Requiem.”

  24. The $64,000 question is whether what you describe is the “message” of the film or not. I never got the sense that it was, and that’s why I enjoyed the film–I took the film as a powerful allegory about the knife’s edge that the artist (whether male or female) must walk between creative expression and madness. It happened that the heroine of this film was a woman.

    As I suggested earlier, had this been an all-male cast with some all-male version of exactly the same idea, of a male artist tormented in exactly the same way, in a film made by a female director, I wonder if men would have had the same reaction, and if they would be justified.

    And as I also suggested in another venue last week, I wonder if Aronofsky, slyly, was trying to provoke this gender divide in this way, and was hoping to trigger exactly the sort of conversation we are having here now.

    Just a thought….

  25. Arnie, I think what turns off certain (perhaps most) women about Black Swan is the following equation: career drive + search for professional perfection = mental illness + sexual repression. In a nutshell: “lady, you got to choose between being an artist and being a woman.”
    While this may still hold true for many women, it is not pleasant to have it rubbed into your face by a man, in such a violent manner too. This may be why my women friends (artists or professionals themselves) and I find the film misogynistic. This is a “lesson” we have heard all too often and never goes over well.

  26. Penny says:

    Genevieve, One of Hitchcock’s blond’s was on Larry King many years ago and she said it was pure torture for her to work with him and refused to do so ever again.

  27. Although, Arnie, some of us women do appreciate c—k rock like Led Zeppelin!

  28. I did not see Requiem for a Dream, but I have no reason to doubt your assessment of the scene in question.

    I have seen A Clockwork Orange, and I enjoyed it unalloyedly as a young man, but now see it as, in part, Kubrick’s twisted male attitude in regard to violence toward women–he enjoyed it a little too much.

    But…I did not get that feeling during Black Swan, nor did my wife, who would be sensitive to that sort of thing.

    My further thought is that men tend to high much higher thresholds for feeling violated–I am thinking about music–there is a reason why high quality music such as Jethro Tull or Emerson Lake and Palmer (showing my age) had an overwhelmingly male audience–men would enjoy being attacked by music in a way that many women would not.

    And I suspect that is a great deal of what is going on with Black Swan-it’s a different level of aesthetic tolerance of intensity.

  29. As I said, I have not seen Black Swan, so I myself find the views of other women on it’s inherent misogyny fascinating, but cannot personally assess I film I have not seen. I am commenting on the earlier film, which contained a scene so atrocious, so sexually violent and violating that not only can I not explicitly describe it’s contents here.. resulting in my loss of appetite for anything further from this director, but find fascinating the fact it has raised a red flag in others. The acting and filmmaking were of a calibre to keep me watching while the sad and sordid stories of the characters unfolded, but that scene was unforgivable, unnecessary, and out-right pornographic. He complained about the rating, had to cut the scene–he could not have expected anything else. I saw his cut because that is the policy of IFC.The sensibilityof a woman may also be assaulted by A Clockwork Orange, while the intellectuals prattle on about how brilliant it is.

  30. I continue to find the hostility to this film fascinating. The film made me really want to go and see Swan Lake performed by world class dancers and to begin to develop some taste as an audience for that art form, which I have never done, unlike music and film which I have enjoyed for a lifetime.

    I see the character of Nina as an artist at least as much as I see her as a woman–had it been a male character, with all the same stuff happening in it, suitably transposed for gender, I doubt many men would have seen it as anti-man.

    And again, I can’t comment on Aronofsky’s other films, I have only seen Pi and The Prestige (neither of which really floated my boat), but I find it remarkable that Black Swan is seen as misogynistic.

  31. What did you think about the Times review, Catherine? Did you feel as irritated by it as I did? Did the superfluous intellectualism grate on you as it did on me? I wished the reviewer would reach the point in under one page, rather than pad it with references to other movies–within reason. Honestly, I enjoy your reviews better than anyone elses. You put us in the seat; whether that seat stands in the theater or the airplane, and you reach down into your unexpurgated gut and pull out sincere response to what you experienced onscreen. For instance, “Goya’s Ghost,” was a classic; almost a lampoon. You are not standing in line with the elite to hand-kiss every overrated ingenue Hollywood stuffs down our throats. You are not fooled by presentation but respond to real talent, or more commonly, the lack of it. Therefore, many of your reviews leave me enjoying good humor; often times, not the humor the filmmaker would have intended.

  32. I am watching “An American In Paris,” on TCM and I am confident I will not be assaulted by it, nor with “The Red Shoes.” Hitchcock had to have limits because of the standards of the day, and was more effective. This man seems to want to shock and repel rather than tell a story. It is as though he is paying back every female– and then some–who rejected him in HS before he became rich and famous. There is even a type: a type of brunette, just as Hitchcock had to torment the blondes who wouldn’t love him.

  33. Genevieve,

    See this take on the film in the NYT:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/10/arts/dance/10swan.html

    It also sees Black Swan as misogynistic. I haven’t seen Requiem for a Dream, and don’t expect to…

  34. Catherine, over the weekend I caught the director’s earlier film, “Requiem For A Dream,” on IFC. I came away from the viewing ( I was hooked by the performances and stylization until the closing scenes which went way too far) feeling such moral offense, overwhelmed with the gratuitous darkness and misogyny, that this director’s very name stirs feelings of revulsion. It seems that if one takes his films as a whole– and in some cases I will go with hearsay as I refuse to see “BlackSwan” after the aforementioned film– that there is a wish whether conscious or not to degrade his female characters and the actresses willing to play them. Now, the performances in Requiem are extraordinary, as is the cinematography and editing, but If evil exists in the world, I don’t need to hang out with those who inhabit such a world, which is the consequence of having a certain awareness raised by these images being burnt into the retina. I was too disturbed to sleep afterwards, and looked up reviews, comments– 90% of the people commenting they wished they had not seen it and would never see it again. BTW, Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Oscar, but ‘lost’ to Julia Roberts, which says all you need to know about the Oscars.

  35. Well, there we agree with each other wholeheartedly, because I’ll take Jane’s novels over anything anyone else ever wrote, with only Shakespeare’s plays running a close second!

  36. I’ll take Jane’s novels any day! I will review The King’s Speech shortly. Another film with oodles of Austen connections…

  37. Well, then we are not poles apart, but merely continents….. ;)

    As for the “What is reality?” part, you overestimate the reaction of many viewers of the film, who do really struggle to make sense of what is real and what is not–and among those viewers–perhaps surprisingly, was myself–of course by the time you get to the final performance, it is clear that there is nothing real.

    But the drug-induced sexual encounter between Nina and Kunis’s character is much more ambiguous–I at least had to think about it later to realize that the first part was real, but the aftermath was, with Kunis’s earthy term for what we might translate into a moist REM encounter between women.

    All the same, what i found particularly powerful was the fusing of the ballet into the action of the movie, how it all coincides. Sometimes something very simple can be very powerful, if executed properly.

    I wonder what Aronofsky has said about the gender gap in reactions to this film–what I wonder most of all is whether he anticipated it–or even more interesting, if he intended it? Why would he do that? Precisely because that would be a back-door way to explore the objectivity/subjectivity theme–a film that is intended to be experienced very differently by women than by men.

    How about that? That starts to sound a lot more like Jane Austen’s novels! ;)

  38. Ah, we feel the same way about Inception! In the theater, I had the impression of being trapped inside some neverending videogame and was bored out of my mind. Now it’s all gone from my memory. Good riddance.
    I must say I liked Black Swan much, much better…
    Indeed many great writers use(d) the technique you mention. In Black Swan, though, the viewer knows from the beginning that she is watching the story unfold from Nina’s POV, and that it has little to do with objective reality, to the extent it can be determined.

  39. And the way you felt about The Black Swan is the way I felt about Inception–I felt no desire to think about that film within a day of seeing it, although some friends were going on and on about it–whereas I was thinking about The Black Swan a lot for days afterwards, and saw it again within a week’s time, so as to better understand Aronofsky’s directorial decisions.

    And of course I should have mentioned that a significant part of my interest in films like The Black Swan, which address the boundary between objective and subjective perception, is that my entire literary sleuthing project is focused on that very point-how Jane Austen manipulates the reader into adopting the subjective perceptions of the heroine as objective fact, and how Shakespeare does exactly the same thing in a dramatic context in his plays, particularly in Hamlet!

  40. Absolutely, Arnie, it is always great to welcome “rational” disagreement. :) This film seems to be rather polarizing: all of my friends who saw it (females all, interestingly) disliked it, some moderately, as I, some intensely. But it evidently hit a nerve with many, as attested by all the accolades it received. When you speak of “visceral impact” I agree. I missed any intellectual message, but I got that. Only for me the impact was negative, and also weirdly short-lived: it is already beginning to fade, as I realized when I watched an ad for the film on TV.

  41. The question of the film’s subtlety, or lack thereof, is an interesting one. I think that its subtlety was subtle, meaning, that the film itself was such a rush that the subtlety of various aspects was obscured—e.g., the way the camera was held was a highly original and crucial decision by Aronofsky, and I think that, as much as anything else, accounts for the power of the experience–the camera dances with the dancers.

    And I thought the performances were all uniformly great, but especially Portman’s—I’d be curious to be a fly on the wall of some very experienced actors and hear their uncensored opinions about Portman’s acting–but I certainly was not disappointed.

    And I had not been a big fan of Aronofsky before–this is the first of his films that I have seen that enthralled me in this way, where the intellectual message did not overpower the visceral impact, but informed it.

    Still, it’s interesting to discuss it with those with disagree.

  42. Thanks, Kris! I also have a deep affection for fairy tales, and don’t think much of the Disney adaptations.
    Arnie, you cite my favorite directors, but I saw nothing in this film that would induce me to class Aronofsky in the same league. What distinguishes him from the masters is, in my opinion, his total lack of subtlety. I agree that the ensemble cast was good, but Natalie Portman was a disappointment, though she is apparently on the fast track for an Oscar.

  43. Well, to provide another point of view, I thought the film, and all the performances, were extraordinary, and I was completely swept up in the flow from start to finish.

    And I noted the strong resonance to Bergman’s Persona, and sure enough, in an interview, Aronofsky did cite that film (which I think is one of the greatest films ever made) as one that he emulated. And in fact some of the greatest films ever made, including Persona but also the likes of a number of other Bergman films, Kurosawa’s Ran, Antonioni’s Blow Up and L’Avventura, many Fellini films, and even films by non-geniuses, like The Sixth Sense, Memento, have all taken advantage of film’s unique ability to create a subjective immersion experience, and have blurred the line between objective and subjective reality.

    Now, I am not saying The Black Swan is on a par with Persona, but I thought it was a great and highly original film. The fact that we know how it will end is insignificant, because the film is not a suspense film, it is an experience, it is a film analog of the ballet itself, and it made me want to see Swan Lake with new eyes.

    Cheers, ARNIE
    sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com

  44. It also reminded me of The Fly too. Too funny!
    Re Tangled: First off, Rapunzel is one of my favorite fairy tales—the first book I ever illustrated—so I guess you can say that I have an intense affection/protectiveness over it. I thought there was a not-so-subtle subject that blood ties is what makes a “real” mother (even though Mother Gothel in the movie was clearly a manipulative terror). Still, what does this say to children who are adopted? That the only “real” mother is a blood relation? The other thing which disturbed me was the obsession with youth/beauty—Mother Gothel uses Rapunzel to hold onto her’s, keeping her under control and infantilized. It’s shades of the Anne Sexton “Rapunzel” poem—”A woman who loves a woman is forever young”—but without the nuance.
    Anyway, I could go on about this ad nauseam, but you get the gist, Catherine. For the sake of balance, I should mention that the two almost-six-year-old little girls I saw it with totally enjoyed Tangled.

  45. Kris, I too was eager to see it. What a let down! Indeed subtlety is not the name of the game here. I would love to hear more of your impressions about Tangled…
    Elissa, didn’t it remind you of The Fly at times? :)

  46. Elissa Shaw says:

    Catherine,
    Great review! I feel as you do about the film. My husband and I left completely confused but entertained. At times I had to chuckle…especially the scene in her room when her legs bent back like that of bird. How weird!

  47. You’ve mentioned many of the same concerns I had, Catherine, with BLACK SWAN. It was a movie that I was so eager to see — love anything with dark dopplegangers, Swan Lake, artistic obsessions, and so on. But I had such a hard time sitting through it, though I loved the dance sequences. I thought they were filmed in such a visceral way, with the hand held camera.

    I also had such a hard time with the “smother mother” aspect of BLACK SWAN. A week earlier, I took my daughter to see TANGLED, which featured yet *another* bad mother figure (though Disney was careful to delineate her as the “fake” mother, since she wasn’t Rapunzel’s biological mother. (The subtext is more than I can bear to get into here.) Bottom line: can’t we mothers catch a break?

    Overall, I thought BLACK SWAN would have been much more effective if handled more subtly. The more I thought about it, the campier I found it.

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  49. Stephen, you make me blush! Me and Byron… What a character for a historical novel.

  50. stephen says:

    Catherine,
    I think you and Byron would be a great fit. I consider my self a closet scholar on the Lord. And he was basically the first celebrity as we know them.
    Pick a subject: Byron and politics, Clothes, sex with women siblings men boys, poetry,art,humor,general scandal, his looks, his mother, father, his foot, obsession with Napolean…endless.

    And to Penny – Hitchcock yes but I think all involved in this film could have gained much from a few manditory screenings of Rosemary’s Baby. Character development at its finest.
    And I agree Portman did not direct herself or edit the film. Actors never know what is going up on the screen. The direction was heavy handed – he showed us the story but he didn’t tell it to us.

  51. Yvonne, I often love thrillers, but this one failed to thrill.
    Penny, I too was glad the ballerinas escaped a fiery death… I am not blaming Natalie Portman for the shortcomings of the film, but I had heard so much about her performance that I was disappointed. For me it just added to an unpleasant mix.

  52. Penny says:

    thanks for the review, Catherine, and now I know I don’t want to see it.
    the director could take lessons from Hitchcock.
    but don’t blame Portman for the material. She did the best she could for the role in which we don’t know reality from her psychosis. For what it is worth, I am glad she doesn’t torch the ballet company.

  53. yvonne says:

    I didn’t see this film and will not rush to see it either. I like edge of the seat thrillers, this was just depressing.. Thanks for the great review.. yvonne

  54. Thanks for your support, Stephen! Yes, maybe Winona Rider could have salvaged the film if given a chance.
    And Lord Byron? What a great idea…

  55. Ah, Diana, I will review The King Speech shortly. What a treat that movie was… About the single wing thingy and other loose ends, who knows? I noticed that Lily sports a -double- wing tattoo on her back (how likely is that for a ballerina?) Maybe that was supposed to mean that Lily is complete while Nina is crippled and couldn’t fly as a swan. Way too deep for me, I am afraid.

    LoveHistory, your family came up with an excellent subtitle. It all boils down to whether you enjoy films about psycho ballerinas. :)

  56. stephen says:

    Good review. The film was just too dark, so much so that I found it pretentious almost. Catherine you are so right about the lack of a likable character, with a slight exception to Mila Kunis, who was somewhat a breath of fresh air because she did smile, otherwise I hated everyone in the film, especially Nina. Portman’s performance was strained and difficult to watch but most of all there was no soul in her to care for or not care for. There was no choice for me, so I didn’t care what happened to her. This is really a horror film.
    But I will say Winona Rider had a great drunk scene in the lobby. I wish she could have stayed around as a true antagonist so that Nina’s narrative could have had a reason but they quickly left her in a slump, that is when the film fell apart for me.

    Love your site and if I may jump cut – I wish you would write about Lord Byron someday.

    S

  57. LoveHistory says:

    Haven’t decided whether or not I want to see this one (my family calls it the psycho-ballerina movie). Thanks for your thougts.

  58. Excellent review, Catherine, I agree with every word you wrote. I discussed it with the reviewer friend who lent me the tape, and said how I disliked movies where you can’t tell what’s supposed to be really happening and what’s psychosis. He does like that sort, but wasn’t able to explain specific things such as why, if the shoulderblade stigmata is supposed to indicate her Swan Wings, she only had one of them. Then in the lesbian scene when the other girl uses the phrase her mother uses, is it supposed to *be* her mother? And did she really kill the old ballerina? (Old. Winona Ryder was unrecognizable.) And what happened at the end? Oh, OK, I won’t spoil it. Like you, I ended up watching the whole thing, but was disappointed at the lack of logic behind it. Also, I was disappointed with the DANCING. The problem was Natalie Portman (and yes, overwrought just describes her performance – almost parodic). She dances adequately, but no more than that. They should have hired a real dancer who could learn to act, rather than an actress who sort of fake dances. It would work better that way, because it’s a hell of a lot harder to learn to dance at that level. Lots of swooping arms, and occasional closeups of feet, but never the whole thing, making me think the arms were Natalie’s, the feet not. Bottom line is, I couldn’t suspend disbelief and just enjoy. Which I did when I watched the other tape I had…The King’s Speech.

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