It would have been a mistake to believe that anybody truly knows what the content of this film (or, I'm guessing, either hue/ creature feature) truly is. To be fair, this psychological thriller, psychosexual horror flick surrounding a Ballet performance of Swan Lake has plenty of press bouncing around the media about it. And you still won't have any clue what the content of this flick really is, in any way, shape, form or boundary until you watch the surreal film.
Imagine my shock when this film, which started with an ambitious ballerina getting and fighting for the part of her life, quickly revealed both Luke Skywalker's mom and Mister Spock's mom as two of the ballerinas vying for the Prima Diva spot in the uncomfy company!
Then it quickly morphs into a nightmare of metaphor and surreal metafiction as the stage takes over the mind. Then it morphs two steps further into a transmogrification Body Horror story of the Cronenberg style with a heapin' helpin' of Polanski-esque psychopathy where nobody is quite sure what's real and what isn't until (and long, long after) the final reel! That's not to mention the waking-nightmare imagery, drug use, lesbian sex and identity fragmentation which permeates every scene like sand in a seat cushion after a beach run!
And the whole shebang is twisted into the sausage casing of the surreal with a standard bunch of half (yet, sadly, only half) naked, catty ballerinas being all bitchy and backstabby with each other.
I'm sure that part is total fiction.
The problem with Black Swan, if, indeed, this could be considered a problem, is that the thin, pink line between what is real and what is nightmare is played almost to a gimmicky extreme by director Darren Aronofsky. So much is left to the imagination and to the unexplained that the separation between "open to interpretation" and "completely obscure" is decidedly blended (again, like sausage) to the point that obscurity becomes oblivion. Sorry. That was over the top even for me.
Then again, even the origin of this film is rather mixed up. Reports indicate that this project was conceived by Aronofsky as a blend between two separate ideas (of Swan Lake and Understudies as Doppelgangers) that has been on the agenda of the Darrenator since he first mentioned it to the film's eventual star back in the year 2000. Yet, the credits indicate that the "story" was written by Andres Heinz and fleshed out into a screenplay by Heinz with John McLaughlin and Mark Heyman! So maybe Aronofsky was like "Whoa, Heinz, I totally thought of this same story... you know, FIRST. Why not go see my buddies Johnny and Mark and make a screenplay and I'll get a ton of nominations!"
Origins aside and strange criticisms aside, Black Swan is an admittedly incredibly weird-ass film... but it's also very, very good, using its strange dichotomies to its best advantage beautifully (and horrifyingly) echoing Swan Lake's dark, broken mirror-image between the "White Swan" and "Black Swan" into a reconciliation that William Blake would be proud of. Hell, maybe it should've been Blake Swan. Nah... that would just hearken back to another Tone/ Beast story, called Red Dragon! Full Circle!
This fearful symmetry is demonstrated early on by the aging (yet still young in MOST worlds) Diva Beth (the aforementioned mom of Spock, Winona Ryder) and the up-and-coming, yet still waifish and frightened young Nina, pretty ballerina (the aforementioned mom of Luke, Natalie Portman)! Both are striving for perfection and both find perfection just out of reach. As Beth's final season draws near, their ballet troupe's rear-end director Thomas (pretentiously pronounced "Toh-MAH" and played by the obnoxiously French Vincent Cassel) selects the standard Swan Lake to kick off the season in a new, stripped down, and both true to the source and totally original production!
And naturally, every young lady in the group (and beyond) wants the part of the Swan herself. Nina, who is hopeful and talented, yet far from aggressive or Machiavellian, is the perfect choice for the White Swan, but can hardly hold the darkness or raw seduction of the Evil Twin counterpart, the Black Swan. Where Nina is all Pretty ballerina (sounds like an ABBA song) with the bunnies and piggies lining her pink bedroom and still lives with her mommy (Barbara Hershey's Erica), her dancing queen competitors have the talent, poise and raw abandon to handle both sides of the feather. If catty bitches like Veronica (Ksenia Solo - note, NOT the mom of Han Solo) aren't enough, super talented and super-sexy newcomers like Lily (Mila Kunis, who did the voice of the Sarlaac in Family Guy Presents: It's a Trap) are sure to keep Nina on her toes (and not necessarily in the way ballerinas are supposed to stay "on their toes").
Sigh. And have I mentioned the Lesbian Sex yet? Yes, I did, I know.
Unpredictably, reality crumbles as the show comes together. The concept of "losing oneself" in a part is taken to "the Oth Degree" (that's one step beyond "the Nth Degree") and, accordingly, as the actress changes on the inside, her perceptions of herself, her reality and the characters around her begin to alter, first in subtle ways, and then in more significant, horrifying manifestations. Jealousy and fear culminate as the Swan begins to constantly experience paranoia about being replaced and, thus, toppled, Yertle-like from the top of the heap!
Natalie Portman does an incredible job of balancing all of these varied points in Nina's evolution and devolution from the control she experiences in wild abandon to her many, possibly imagined, other-selves, to her shocking transformation into something decidedly different, both inside and outside. And that's really something to see. Ryder is similarly excellent as the broken ballerina, while Kunis positively exudes sexuality in her friendly, yet ambitious and passionate blooming artist.
Similarly, Aronofsky also employs that same reconciliation of opposites in his visual and storytelling style. The film stock and stark, unembellished look of the film hearkens back to something from the pre-CGI 1970s, yet just when the look and feel of the film puts the viewer into a certain mode, Aronofsky employs visual effects, first subtly, to keep the audience wondering, and later more obviously, to turn the entire film into a dream. Meanwhile, the film never loses that same classic, serious look, even when the surreal becomes the real. Likewise, his feel of understanding for ballet and appreciation for the acting craft is clearly seen here as he encapsulates a kind of method that many actors have experienced as their characters are explored. Dreams, mental-illness, ambition, self-destruction, gaining the part or losing identity all makes up a puzzle piece of this great question mark.
All of this combine to help make Black Swan a really good, very beautiful and supremely disturbing film. It's also incredibly sexy at most turns, but even that is most often twisted into a bizarre slice of a bad dream just as soon as the audience gets comfortable with it. Aronofsky mixes very real-world scares and worries with absolute haunting and abject terror that we find in horror films.
Again, however, the very complexity that excels in Black Swan also detracts from the whole in the final analysis. The many facet and changing nature of each perception gives a feel of almost inconsistency at times. It's not that the characters are underdeveloped, in fact, at times the characters are actually over-exposed and this, coupled with the obscurity between what is and isn't real gives the feel that perhaps Darren Aronofsky himself wasn't sure what the truth was. If true, this isn't necessarily a liability, but where Black Swan is unclear in some areas, it is almost too much in the sun at others. Aronofsky is obvious in his metaphors, right to the beginning, to the point that certain big surprises are actually much more predictable than they should be. Further, for all its subtlety, it's noteworthy that there are a few moments of startle and shock value that aren't exactly as flowing as a ballerina.
One last thing, to remind you that you're still reading WorldsGreatestCritic.com, for all of the sexuality, including hot Lesbian Sex and make-outs, there is no (or almost no) nudity in the entire film. No, we don't watch art films for soft-core porn, but the way some of this is shot and blocked, the impression is given that Aronofsky is trying far too hard to not show any nudity... or that the actresses had a no-nudity clause in their contracts. Lecherous complaint? No, not this time. It just doesn't work as something that might truly happen if the scene were real. Can you imagine? "I'm going to make love to you like you've never experienced before, but I'm keeping my pants on, and please keep your bra on, because, you know, I would hate for you to get cold. In fact, is there a way we can make love while you're wrapped up in a pea-coat? Better yet, I'll go back to my place, you bundle up and grab your laptop and we'll just have virtual sex in an AOL Chatroom!"
Whoa... I just made an AOL Chatroom joke. What is this review, a period piece? Still, I guess such a weird inclusion goes wonderfully in a review for a huge combination of realism and other-worldly dreaminess like Black Swan, where just about anything can happen. I stand by my legitimate criticisms of this movie, but I'll also go on record that this is, on the whole, just my kind of film! It's not perfect, but it is beautiful, surreal and sexy, not to mention fully worth Four Stars out of Five! The Ballet is beautiful, the story is interesting, the sexuality is entrancing, the metaphor is tangible and the acting and directing are fantastic. Strap on those point shoes and dance on into the theatre, but don't be surprised if everything changes. As the metamorphosis takes place, you may even find that pillars holding up your reality are CATERpillars, just waiting to cocoon, sprout wings and take off in weird-ass ways.
But not as weird as this review. Talk about when Metaphor meets Bad Pun! "Held up by Caterpillars?" Really? See you in the next reel.
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And you'll find out soon enough what's real and what's a nightmare, man!
Okay, so here's the thing... I'm sure she lived and that the end scene was all in her head. Jumped but laied there like there was something wrong, so fucko Toh-Mah said to get help.
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Totally in her head. No real blood at all. However, the fact that it was a "Mirror" shard that "killed" her plays into the whole doppelganger aspect, as well as being sort of a losing of her virginity, as she becomes something else.
But trust me on this... the scene with Mila Kunis going down on Natalie Portman? That part was NOT a dream! That... TOTALLY... happened! I promise!