Saturday, December 4, 2010

Black Swan

So I'm writing this for 2 reasons. One is I loved the movie and just want to write about it. And, two, I need practice typing on Der's netbook because I need to use it for finals. There is no way I'm getting Louisa back in time for December 10.

So, back to Bom.

I heard about "Black Swan" months ago, at some film festival wrap-up. I'd read in passing that Natalie Portman was already getting Oscar buzz for her role as a ballet dancer giving into her dark side. Wow! Natalie Portman? Love her! Ballet? Love it! Darren Aronofsky? Loved "The Wrestler", so why they hell not?

I began to wait. It began to feel like I was a "Star Wars" geek waiting for "The Phantom Menace". I stalked the page daily. And the trailer? Twice daily was more like! And then I found this music video and I lost it completely!

If I loved "Swan Lake" before, I was fairly obsessed by then. I found a documentary about 5 dancers in the Kirov Ballet and discovered the amazing Uliana Lopatkina who is the epitome of the dying swan. Pavlova is great and all that, but Lopatkina has the most enviable arms and a grace that was given to her by the angels themselves.

I rented a Kirov performance of "Swan Lake" but was so disappointed in the ending. They made it all happy and shit and there was no dying swan. I felt gypped and almost flung the disc away in disgust. Needless to say, Lopatkina didn't dance Odile/Odette.

Speaking of whom, I've often wondered what a dancer goes through in performing these roles in "Swan Lake". They are polar opposites of each other and Odette looms larger in terms of presence in the ballet. So a dancer spends more time perfecting and rehearsing the White Swan, and then must switch gears for a very physically gruelling dance that exudes more force than the White Swan offers in her entire performance. The White Swan is all grace and fragility and fear and tender love. The Black Swan is lust and passion and cruelty.

"Black Swan" captures the dichotomy beautifully. Portman is allowed to stretch marvelously into both characters. And they are two characters, both in the ballet and the film. Portman's Nina Sayers is everything the White Swan is supposed to be: fragile, graceful, technically perfect. But the Black Swan is none of those things. The White Swan is all internal and the Black Swan is visceral and everything is outside for the world to see.

Nina IS the White Swan. All she wants to be is perfect. She is timid and allows herself to be manipulated by her mother, an ex-dancer who "gave it up to have [Nina]". Nina's eventual rebellion only comes when pushed by Mila Kunis' Lily. It's Lily who gives voice to Nina's mother's actions and, while Nina is coming into slow realization herself, it's Lily's contempt that provides the impetus for Nina to take a stand.

I like Mila Kunis. She's a risk-taker. She fit right into Lily exactly like you'd expect her to. I have nothing bad to say about her performance, but I wasn't surprised the way I was with Portman and Winona Ryder. They aren't exactly risk-takers when it comes to their choices of film roles, so this movie was a revelation.

Lily served her purpose in the story and Kunis subtly moved the character in and out of Nina's perceptions of Lily. It was an excellent performance, just not surprising.

Now, as for Ryder. I think if Judi Dench can win an Oscar for six minutes on screen in "Shakespeare in Love", Ryder should be a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Oscar in next year's academy awards. Ryder is my generation's Ellen Page. "Heathers" is my "Juno". Etc. Etc. But Ryder has never really stepped out of that onlooker's position in her film choices. She's never been anything but lovely, graceful, timid with inner strength. It's always been internal performances, like May in "Age of Innocence". In "Black Swan", she has three scenes and is mesmerizing in all of them, short as her screen time was. It wasn't my Winona Ryder, I thought. She's everything May is not: cruel, hateful, frightened, envious, shocking. All the external emotions she's never shown.

As for Portman, where do I begin? She's Natalie Portman and, for a good chunk of the movie, exactly what you'd expect from a very talented actress. Oh, but not really everything you'd expect, is it? She's got lots of subtlety to play with and she does amazing things with her eyes and neck that make you shudder just as much as the larger actions.

I'm not spoiling anything by saying the movie is about descent into madness. Nina is told by the choreographer, Thomas, that if he was casting the White Swan only, she was a shoo-in. She's ALL White Swan, but he wants a more visceral performance out of her. He's opening the season with "Swan Lake". "Done to death, I know," he says. "But not like this." He gives Nina the part, knowing full well she has a great deal of work to do to become the Black Swan.

Nina is terrifying and terrified. She's sexually repressed and always seems to be in a state of coitus interruptus. Well, I know I'd go mad if I was always on the verge of an orgasm just to have the stimulus pulled away from me. Just saying.

So she throws herself into the role. Thomas wants her to let go, Lily thinks she is going to be amazing, her mother is proud and supportive and turns on a dime to sabotage. Or does she? Is Lily really jealous and pretends to be encouraging and friendly? The movie isn't an enigma wrapped in a mystery but it's a mind-fuck all the same.

To say I wasn't disappointed is an understatement. I loved it with every pore of my being. I'd go back if I wasn't in the thick of finals prep. But that DVD is so mine when it comes out. Mine, I tell you! MINE!