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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Black Swan (spoilers)

Things I am now terrified of after seeing Black Swan: swans, Natalie Portman, fingernails, nail files, feathers, masturbating, Barbara Hershey, mothers, ballet, Frenchmen, Winona Ryder, girls from San Francisco, mirrors. However, it could've been worse--I realized last night that Aronofsky COULD have chosen to use The Nutcracker instead of Swan Lake, and then I'd be doomed, because I'm already pretty scared of The Nutcracker.

Um, also it was a great film. I actually am not sure what to say about it beyond what's been said already; it was a very intense viewing experience and I still feel a bit high-strung. Dear readers, when you see this film, please remember to bring a bottle of wine to chug afterwards. Or some anxiety meds. It is definitely a horror movie. There is blood and disturbing body imagery, and many jump-out-of-your-skin moments. It is quintessentially Aronofsky.

I really like Darren Aronofsky films. I love Pi: Faith in Chaos, The Fountain, and The Wrestler. I may cautiously say that I loved Black Swan. I dislike Requiem for a Dream but understand why it's important (it certainly isn't BAD, it's just very hard to watch), and I have not seen Below. Given that I have seen almost all his movies, I don't know why it's taken so long for me to realize that he's totally an auteur, with the major theme being dreams and goals and how they affect a person. You are all probably saying "Duh!" but last night I found it a revelation, for lo, I am slow. Black Swan is definitely, completely in this ouvre. My boyfriend, who did not see it with me, asked after I got home and was babbling about it if it was similar to The Wrestler. At first I was like, ...eh, and then about ten seconds later was like, IT TOTALLY IS!, and then everything crystallized. Of course this Theme makes me intensely interested in how he'll go about directing The Wolverine, given that the main conceit of Aronofsky films is that the dream or goal drives the main characters, taunts or haunts or torments or seduces them, to an eventual endpoint of glory or destruction (or both).

Black Swan, like I said, is a quintessential embodiment of Aronofsky style. There is body horror in the mode of "this is happening to my body, I can't control it" a la Izzi's scene in The Fountain wherein she realizes that she is no longer sensitive to heat, and psychological horror in the mode of "I can no longer trust my brain", as when Max's mind begins to betray him in Pi, and the shocking effects of obsession on the body and mind together (just pick a film, this happens to all his characters). If you're a fan of his previous films I would heartily recommend this new one. Beautifully shot, beautifully acted, frightening, compelling, funny, sexy: it has everything. Too, I am interested of course in the ways in which Nina (Natalie Portman's character) is molded, against her will or no, by kyriarchal forces. At one point the main male character, Thomas, asks the male prima ballerina if he would "fuck this girl (Nina)", with the clear answer being no. In a broader context, the need for Nina to be fuckable by men would be non-issue, but in the context of the film there is reason given for this criterion: the Black Swan alter ego is undeniably seductive. Can a woman who has never experienced sex portray seduction believably? Of course for a Hollywood director to ask such a question is inherently laughable, and for the "cure" for a tightly-wound virgin to be sexual encounters of various kinds is an ancient cliche. However, I found that Nina was such an unreliable narrator that the plot itself transcended its baseline, reasonably simple love story. In some ways the use of what is basically softcore girl-on-girl porn to further Nina's career (I think Twisty would use the word "enpornulation" here) IS offensive and irritating and a fall-back, but I found that to view the scene as something that did not literally occur--something that is a fever dream born of Nina's mind--made more sense within the context of the movie, since Nina sees many, many things that are not there and carries out many actions which have different effects in "the real world" as opposed to her mind. I venture that, like other of Aronofsky's movies, the question of free will is an important one; where does Nina's overpowering desire to be a dancer come from? Her controlling, infantilizing mother, who gave up a dancing career to have her daughter? A genuine love and talent for dancing? In this equation, Nina's entire world is dictated to and for her. She has been created by outside forces, chiefly kyriarchal ones, and they continue to control her until she loses (or refuses) control completely, when it had previously been her idol. This allows her to achieve her greatest goal but also destroys her. The entire film, in some ways, is an indictment of our current system.

Also, I kinda want to dress up like the Black Swan for Halloween next year, because the costume is gorgeous and would be pretty easy to do...but I'm totally terrified if I do I'll turn into a swan. QUANDARY.

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