NOTE: COULD CONTAIN SPOILERS, OF COURSE.
First of all, I really want to love this film. I liked it… but I’m not sure I love it. It’s up my alley in ways that don’t get satisfied often, so to have these insecure qualms is driving me nuts. I want others’ thoughts before deciding my final opinion of the film. Here’s some free-association to bounce off of…
Positive notes to get out of the way: I’m impressed at how Aronofsky kept all the madness going from beginning to end. And Portman was SO good! And Kunis did great too.
“Black Swan” obviously draws from three wonderful films. The two ballet films of Micheal Powell – More so “Red Shoes” than “Tales of Hoffman.” It also takes heavy, heavy influence from the Satoshi Kon anime, “Perfect Blue” – which Aronofsky has owned the rights to for some time. Check this out even… The main character in “Perfect Blue”: Mima. In “Black Swan”: Nina.
And I’m gonna throw in a fourth title just for fun. For some reason, “Blood Of A Poet” just kept coming to mind while watching “Black Swan.” Iunno, something about mirrors, statues, fog, and art…
But okay… let’s get onto the real point of my post. My uncertainties:
Let’s see, I guess to start….
The character of the mother felt campy in a 1960’s thriller sort of way (a lot of people have thrown Polanski’s name around, which I can definitely see). And really, what’s the point of making the mother character such an antagonist? Simply to explain Nina’s meek personality? That’s certainly a lot of extra effort and time for character background. It allows for a lot of exciting tension-building and melodrama, I suppose. :\
Oh and was it just me or was there even a quick scene that implied incest? (Mother enters the bedroom: “Are you ready for me?” ::cut to next scene::) Wasn’t sure if I was reading into that one too much.
In the end I question the necessity of the lot of her character though.
Also, why make Portman’s character so vulnerable? Is this a story of innocence and the difficult transition to adulthood or is it about the extreme side of ambition? The duality of life and art? These story subjects are good by themselves, but seem weakened when mixed together. At least, in that it causes messy convolution for my racing thoughts anyway. I fear, the film loses some of that universal DNA in doing so.
Oh yeah… side step for a moment to something trivial… Winona Ryder’s casting was distracting, mainly just because I didn’t know she had a role in the film when I went into the theater. I admit, this isn’t fair, but to explain, it kind of made me laugh with surprise when she popped onto the screen and this happened during a scene that wasn’t entirely meant to be laughed at.
It’s not a qualm, but interesting to point out (as many already have) how the film is very similar to “The Wrestler,” but what do you guys think about how him revealing the fate of the main character this time around (at the end of the movie)? Better? Worse? Doesn’t matter? Was too nice a parallel to the Swan Lake story to be disregarded?
And lastly, a kind of old argument as we all know, but screw it, I’ll let loose the worms from the can, I guess for the sake of discussion specific to this film…
The sex scenes, I felt, were too exploitive of its actors and not emotional enough for its story. I’m from the school of thought that if the film is not about sex and you spend more than ten seconds showing on-screen your main characters going down on each other and exploring each other’s bodies, then the director’s head and his camera both are not in the right place. As I often like to throw monkey wrenches in all my arguments though, here’s another admission: I’m American. We’re often more shy when it comes to sex then say, Europe or Asia. I’m not sure the film was crass about it though. I’m really just being cautious. Though the performers are all quite attractive, I personally hope Aronofsky’s intentions were purely artistic and he wasn’t going for shock value (or worse, sex appeal). It certainly wouldn’t be the first time he’s asked for sexually graphic scenes from his actors to convey extreme low-points of their characters’ lives. Something to think about – on a couple levels.
Alright… that seems like a good starting point. Lay it on me.
I’ve got a plane to catch tomorrow, but if the free wifi is still going, I’ll try to check back and see your comments and get some responses going during my flight. (Though: I have a horrible fear of flying, see, and the drugs I’ll be taking may make me incoherent or even incapable of responding, so please don’t get angry if you don’t hear from me till the next morning or something).
Have a good one folks!
I thought the film was pretty good, actually, though not great. Too predictable and I haven’t found enough within it yet (just saw it today) to call it any more than an artful analysis of the artistic process. All art involves sacrifice.
I don’t think there really was any sex in the film—there were projections of Nina’s internal struggle on screen, some of which involved exploring a part of herself sexually, some of which involved pushing the boundaries of aggression in order to ‘let herself go’ and inhabit the character of the Black Swan.
So part of me says if that’s all the film is I’m not so sure that’s all that meaty. We can talk about whether it’s worth it to sacrifice your life for a perfect work of art, or any other sacrifice at any level beneath that, but I’m not all that interested in that question.
More interesting to me is the process of creating that art. What does it do to the psyche to inhabit a character, and/or to endure the rigors—physical, mental, emotional—to achieve artistic greatness? Maybe they’re parts of the same question as above, after all, but that’s where my interest lies.
I like Aronofsky a lot. I think he’s miles above Nolan and Fincher, though aside from The Fountain, which I adore for personal reasons, I haven’t 5/5ed any of his films, this one included.
Great score by Clint Mansell, interpolating the Swan Lake theme.
And Portman gets the Oscar. Her performance is as subtle as it is melodramatic. There are tiny moments of emotion that pass across her face that most people probably didn’t even notice, but it’s a more complex performance than I’ve seen from her yet.
What sticks with me most in this film is Natalie Portman’s brilliant, memorable performance. Before seeing this, I had always thought of her as just an average actor. Now I know she is capable of so much more.
I can definitely draw the similarities between Black Swan and The Wrestler, but I have to say I like the latter quite a bit more. It probably has something to do with the autobiographical context of its lead character (Mickey Rourke)… plus the nature of The Wrestler wasn’t as chaotic as Black Swan (this just speaks to my personal preference).
I enjoyed the film, but I think without a great performance by Natalie Portman it would have been mediocre. Too many of the major films of the theme are borrowed from other ‘hip’ movies. The film tried too hard to be ‘nerdycool’.
I think it was heavily implied the mother didn’t really exist. Throughout the film Nina’s rash jumps from one shoulder to the other. Nina’s mother notices the rash and comments on it. If I recall, she also noticed Kunis when Nina brought her home. I think the mother was a projection of Nina’s perfectionist self-scrutiny.
“The film tried too hard to be ‘nerdycool’”
that’s Aro in a nutshell though isn’t it? Except for The Wrestler maybe, which was him trying to be ‘gritty’.
I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, I thought it was easily one of the best of the year. You bring up some good points though
I think the mother character helped explain a lot. Nina is a very timid, vulnerable person, easily moldable. Think about how easily it was for Vincent Cassell to throw her around with his words, and for others to walk over her. Her mother helped explain where that comes from; she tried to (selfishly) shield Nina, keep her under her wing, following the path the way she thinks it should be followed. I believe that without the mother there to show why Nina is the way she is, it wouldn’t have been such a drastic character transformation. If the mother was absent in this film, Nina would just seem like a regular girl who has to act a little edgy to transform into the Black Swan. I don’t think it would’ve been nearly as fun, dramatic, or entertaining.
Hmm…I didn’t get that reading at all.
Also, why make Portman’s character so vulnerable? Is this a story of innocence and the difficult transition to adulthood or is it about the extreme side of ambition?
You’re right, I think it is both of these things. However, I think it is more about letting one’s self go than the vulnerability. And I think it rings true with a lot of dancers in general, or hell, even artists. Musicians, artists, actors, they’re all usually very vulnerable people. Even when they put up a cocky shield, many of them want to be accepted, to be liked, to be appreciated for what they’ve done, for the attention that they crave. They want to be good and, sometimes more importantly, want to be recognized as being good.
Here is a very good article diving into how close to life the dancers in Black Swan are portrayed as:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jordan-zakarin/beneath-the-feathers-what-black-swan-says-about-dancers_b_799183.html
lol That sucks because I thought her character was great, and just as tragic as Nina. Why did she make you laugh though?
I didn’t think it was as similar as The Wrestler as many people made it out to be. I thought they had two totally different styles, especially when you factor in the genres used and the music. The only thing I could see that kind of linked them together was Aronovsky and the handheld camera work. One’s about a muscular old guy who’s best days are over and the other is about a young woman who’s best performance of her career is just starting to unfurl.
Besides that though, I liked the way the ending was handled better in Swan Lake than The Wrestler. In The Wrestler, it was a small moment of strictly personal glory; in Black Swan, it was an epic moment of someone transcending themselves along with their art, with everyone witnessing it as well. Beautiful!
The sex scenes, I felt, were too exploitive of its actors and not emotional enough for its story. I’m from the school of thought that if the film is not about sex and you spend more than ten seconds showing on-screen your main characters going down on each other and exploring each other’s bodies, then the director’s head and his camera both are not in the right place.
I thought the sex scenes were fine and were completely necessary. How else would you depict Nina’s sexual inhibition? Would they just talk about it? Nina: “Hey, I tried masturbating this morning but I had to stop ’cause I noticed my mom was in the room”. lol It’s a film, it’s better to show these things, it has a much greater impact. I thought it meshed perfectly with her timidness, her breaking out of her shell. I’ve seen many many people who are like this (both male and female) who’s lack of overt sexuality matches their shyness and vulnerability; some of whom broke out of both later on. They go hand in hand and for me, it all rang as very true.
Great stuff! I’m glad you created this thread!
you’re right in that they certainly needed the exploration of her sexuality to show her transition into being the black swan. And I agree with you totally about Aronofsky being miles above Nolan and Fincher. And I’d be completely cool with Portman getting the Oscar.
you think the mother didn’t exist? Anyone here else get that? If so, I totally didn’t read it that way, though… I guess it wouldn’t really matter either way; the same points would get across. The only downfall of the mother being a hallucination or projection is that Nina’s character arc MIGHT be even less impacting and compelling if she was already crazy to begin with (rather than fragile).
you brought up lots of great stuff and I’ll get to responding to you shortly! must board my plane. thanks for the in-depth response. it’s keeping my mind occupied! again, i’ll get back to you shortly.
Well, the mother interacts with her other hallucinations. Nobody other than Nina interacts with her who is not a hallucination. I think it’s safe to say that the rash was a hallucination, considering it kept moving from the left shoulder to the right. Maybe the mother was real but half the time Nina interacted with her, it was a hallucination.
What I got as the central theme of the film was Nina’s obsessive perfectionism. She wanted to do everything perfectly, but then to perfectly master the ‘Black swan’ role, she had to perfect the art of imperfection. Early in the movie the manager said “That was me seducing you. Now you seduce me.” During the final performance, she did exactly that. Paradoxically, she had to learn to act spontaneous and aggressive to satisfy her need to meet everyone’s approval. The final words of the film: “I was perfect.”
Jirin, that’s a very good observation. Her mother could very well be a hallucination, the strict and timid side of her that’s been controlling her all of these years. I’ll have to watch it again but to the best of my knowledge, I think you’re right on how her mother only interacted with her other hallucinations. Also, her mother could see her rash again and again…which, later on, her rash evolved into her full blown transformation of the black swan. Then, as soon as she transformed, it showed the audience’s perspective of Nina, which was her simply in her ballerina outfit; no black swan in sight. Which to me, would mean that the rashes and her other body problems (skin tearing around nails, pulling out prickly feathers, etc.) were all simply hallucinations.
Which comes around to, if her mother could see those hallucinations as well, then she could very well have been a hallucination. Great observation, Jirin!
Though if her mother was a hallucination, Lily would have to be too. When Lily comes to the house and persuades her to go out, Lily is reacting to the mother. Lily is not a hallucination because she interacts with other ensemble ballerinas.
“Oh and was it just me or was there even a quick scene that implied incest? (Mother enters the bedroom: “Are you ready for me?” ::cut to next scene::) Wasn’t sure if I was reading into that one too much.”
lol this is an interesting possibility, though I don’t think they had sex if that’s what you’re implying. I did get that vibe though, a couple times. The dozens of Nina portraits hanging up in her art studio, it was obvious that the mother was enamored by Nina’s beauty and quietly resentful of her success. I felt her character to be more of a mentor with “mother” qualities, obsessed with perfecting her apprentice, even though the apprentice was more talented. Though I would say this tension is less about incest than it is about the mother’s longing to feel that kind of success and knowing that she can never have it. I wouldn’t be surprised if that kind of longing would turn sexual, but it certainly wouldn’t be intended as such. If there is a sexual tension between them, neither of them realize it
-Though if her mother was a hallucination, Lily would have to be too.-
It’s difficult to be sure what’s what, but at least once in the film, Lily is a hallucination—the final dressing room confrontation between Nina and Lily turns out to have actually been just Nina, and we’re led to believe that the earlier sex scene between the two is probably an hallucination as well. You get so little overt objectivity in the film though that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. My read on the film was just that the mother was real—an obsessive stage parent who was probably as crazy as her daughter.
I believe this is Aronofsky’s most sophisticated film yet. Overall, he keeps a balanced eye on what he is presenting to the audience. Right before a scene is about to jump off a cliff into “tounge in cheek” territory he brings us back to reality. A good example of this is when Nina slams her mother’s hands in the door (I applaud the sound director for getting every crunch and crack perfect.) Her transformation takes us to a more surrealist mode but Aronofsky keeps it well-ordered by juxtaposing these type of sequences with little snips of realistic horrors and “jumps” (i.e, something as small as Nina running into a nurse.)
And I must agree with some of the other posters above. Without Natalie Portman’s perfect performance, it would of been a lot harder for Aronofsky to pull off some of the scenes he created. She’s definitely got oscar written all over her this year.
Though yes I will always love the fountain, again for personal reasons ha, I believe Black Swan is a greater work of art and shows a lot of maturity on Aronofsky’s part.
Did anyone else think that the applause during the end credits mirrored Tarantino’s last scene in Inglorious Basterds? What I mean by this is does anyone believe both directors give themselves a lot of credit, and maybe makes them a little cocky and arrogant? I just thought it was a little pretentious to give yourself an applause when the film is over.
has anyone here seen the Argento original?
“I believe this is Aronofsky’s most sophisticated film yet.”
You’re probably right — and it’s no compliment.
It’s a truly terrible film. Aronosky has clearly impressed a lot of people who’ve ehard about “The Red Shoes” but never actually seen it. He has no interest in ballet nor any understanding of how to film it. Natalie Portman may well know how to dance, but I have no idea whether she does or not on the basis of this travesty. Aronofsky places his camera right up in her face and on top of her body. He never shows any actual dance movement last more than a few seconds. We never see a full ballet.
If you want to see a dramtic film about a dancer and what she faces in life put “The Company” on your Netflix queque. Neve Campbell is lovely in it, and Altman — who told me a week prior to shooting he knew nothing about ballet but was fascinated by all the pretty gfirls in tights — knows how to shoot bodies in motion.
I think your misinterpreting the film. Ballet is something beautiful, authentic and artistic and theres not doubt about that. I have seen Red Shoes and it’s a spectacular film. I just think your over-observing something that is not necessairly the main focal point of this picture. Here, Aronofsky is more interested on the emotionality displayed within the characters facial expressions more then their actual full body movement. This is a film about character transformation, not about the aesthetics of ballet itself.
Well if you’re making a movie about facial exporessions when the characters re devoted to an art requirting their entire bodies you’re heading straight inot a logical contradiction.
Believe me I wasn’t expecting somethign as great as “The Red Shoes.” “Black Tights” or “Inivation to the Dance,” or the Moira Shearer episode in “The Story of Three loves” would have served just fine for a model.
f course the film has other models in mind as well: "Repulsion, " “Showgirls,” and “Carrie” ( Barbara Hershey’s controlling mother.) It all adds up to movoe thats overwrought and undercooked at the same time.
Here’s an excerpt from my review of Black Swan. I saw it in Philly with Aronofsky in the audience:
Soon to hit limited audiences throughout the US is the latest visionary accomplishment from the man who is, in my mind, the strongest and most appropriate contender for this year’s Best Director at the Oscars. However, despite a radical and abundant fan following regarding his filmography, which has sparked controversy and split audiences, Darren Aronofsky’s newest film might prove to be his most extreme yet, which may or may not appeal to those who vote.
Black Swan is a psychologically pulverizing reconstruction of the famed and revered Russian ballet Swan Lake. Aronofsky applies his vision to a singular narrative concerning a group of young dancers surrounding the production of Swan Lake which serves as the core that feeds the film’s pulsating reveal. Black Swan explores this concept from the perspective of Nina (Natalie Portman), a talented young woman trying desperately to achieve perfection in her art. The film takes itself quite seriously in a psychological sense and from the very first scene we are exposed to her perverse attitude towards this production as a means to excellence and success. Competition gets heated when a gifted rival, Lily (Milla Kunis), begins to outperform Nina.
Looking back at the films trailer one would undoubtedly place some curiosity upon the so-called metamorphosis or transformation of Nina. I was curious how much of a role this would play in the film and whether or not I would feel let-down in the process. To be honest not once did I feel cheated by the film’s methods; its fleeting optimism and increased tension paved the way for Aronofsky’s brilliant and unsettling use of genre clichés. The seamless transitions from dark humor to grotesque horror to sexual desire are astonishing and never predictable.
Bodily horror has been sort of a motif in all of his films but with Black Swan Aronofsky has outdone himself. Prepare to be unnerved. Like out of some nightmarish fantasy comes the twisted and shocking depiction of insanity and torment that carries the film’s traumatic tone with vitality that rivals any Hitchcock, Polanski or Cronenberg. Some of the scares are genuinely terrifying. Nina attempts to perfect her role as the black swan so much so that she literally embodies it. The mind can only take so much stress before finding other ways to make sense of things. The role consumes her as a parasite consumes its host. The progression is slow but vicious—seeking an audience with patience to wrap in its vice-grip. Aronofsky will challenge many with this film and for some it will prove to be too much.
“has anyone here seen the Argento original?”
Den, I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought of all this giallo reminiscence, hehehe ;)
Terrible? Well, comparing this to an Argento TRUE horror film, then yes…it’s terrible alright…but compared to a Stallone abhoring crap……there’s a difference.
And pardon me David but you’re the one “implying” that Ghost Writer is one of the best films of the year….I see no difference between the “quality” of Ghost Writer and Salt….
“Too predictable and I haven’t found enough within it yet (just saw it today) to call it any more than an artful analysis of the artistic process. All art involves sacrifice.”
This is what I got from it when I saw it about two weeks ago. I am fairly convinced there is not much else worth talking about. Aronofsky riffs on ideas covered by people like Lynch, Cronenberg, and Polanski, but works with them in ways that I didn’t find nearly as interesting. At least Black Swan is a better film than Repulsion…..
The Fountain is a film much more worthy of discussion.
I thought it was pretty damn good, Aronofsky’s best in my opinion
the writing could have been better
I just wished it pulled together at the end more
the writing had ALOT of potential but never quite had everything come together
overall, probably on my top ten list of the year, but on the low end
Natalie Portman got progressively better as the film went on and if i watch this again it will be solely for her performance
“I see no difference between the “quality” of Ghost Writer and Salt….”
Well you’ve been wrong before, are now — and doubtless will be again.
Wrong is relative. You think that a pathetic actor does justice to Allen Ginsberg. That’s a review enough for me to avoid this film. Face it, some directors like Polanski have lost it long ago. Too much academia Ehrenstein.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that Aronofsky is the hope of American cinema or anything.
Lots of name-dropping in this thread, as there has been in every single thing written about Black Swan that I have read.
And yet, nothing worthwhile is really being said as no one has made the fierce comparisons that, apparently (the movie isn’t playing in my area, so I’ve yet to see it), need to be made.
Alex, it was interesting that you talked about Michael Powell’s two ballet films, because Black Swan bought to my mind Pressburger and Powell’s Black Narcissus – females cloistered together obsessively following one ideal, sexual frustration and sexual jealousy, sacrifice and self punishment, the descent into psychosis – even down to Powell’s very careful use of colour when shooting the film.
I personally enjoyed it, partly because it was such an oddity and genuinly took me by surprise, but I didn’t feel that the fusion between reality and unreality were quite seamless – it does owe something to Argento for that.
As far as the some of the other opinions here are concerned – I loved Repulsion ( and I’m talking about when it was released) and I also think Ghost Writer was a really great film. So I’m agreeing/disagreeing with everyone.
Sounds like you wanted the film to be something that it wasn’t.
I’ve seen The Red Shoes and enjoyed Black Swan much, much more. The Red Shoes is overlong, overrated and not the best of Powell and Pressburger by any means. Also, Moira Shearer was not a very good actress.
That being said there were a few things that bothered me about BS and I think The Wrestler is a better film.
“The Red Shoes is overlong, overrated and not the best of Powell and Pressburger by any means.”
Black Swan is twice the length. Please, don’t tell me Portman is an Actress or anything either! Don’t forget Shearer was an ACTUAL BALLET DANCER and not a “professional” actress as miss Potman is proclaimed to be by expert critics.
“And yet, nothing worthwhile is really being said as no one has made the fierce comparisons that, apparently (the movie isn’t playing in my area, so I’ve yet to see it), need to be made.”
What are the fierce comparisons then mister Farmer if not Polanski?