I finally got around to seeing Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’ the other night with Max and Mikaela. Different parts of the movie were torturous for my companions, while Max was subjected to scene after scene of meticulous ballet work, and a story line that really stems from an obsession with the pursuit of an exclusively feminine perfection, Mikaela squirmed with each closeup of toes bloodied by toe shoes, or the poking through of feathers through Natalie Portman’s goosebumped back. So I sat between the two, content. I had some problems with Black Swan as a narrative, but as an experience, and a mood piece, it almost achieves the perfection it’s main character Nina strives so hard for. The emotional punch this film packed was due in no small part to Natalie Portman’s performance.
While I’m by no means a Natalie Portman fanatic (her horrible performance as an army wife in last year’s ‘Brothers’ killed that for me) I expected her to deliver an impressive performance as a frail ballerina as it seems to be playing directly to type. Even with high expectations, Portman’s performance knocked me off my feet, her portrayal of anxiety played totally real, and her devolution went slowly enough to feel realistic. Portman is best with eyes watering, lips trembling, and she’s at that point for nearly the entire film.
My feelings are still unresolved on the story of Black Swan. Calling the film a psychological thriller is almost unfair. The focus isn’t on the reveal at the end of the film, or on the cool twists and turns, that is to say it’s no “Usual Suspects”. But it’s not fair to judge the story, or even confusion about the story because Black Swan is, to quote the director from the beginning of the film; visceral. It’s a film to be admired more than loved, filled with technical grace, and raw emotion.
One thing this movie did get totally right was the dark sexuality. While the Kunis on Portman sex scene is already infamous, it wasn’t pillow fighting and kissing. Instead of inhabiting the well worn male fantasy of lesbian sex, it lived within a female fantasy and it worked. I loved that the film used sex as a manipulation tactic and embraced the dark, dangerous parts of sex. The focus on Portman’s body throughout the film, and how frail it was was incredible. While she’s undeniably beautiful, she was certainly easier to look at when she was fully clothed than when her ribs were poking through, her back was raw and her arms were toothpick like.