Movie Review Monday: Black Swan

Pop Contributor Mike Finkelstein has a dark side to him…and that’s why he’s bringing you his review of “Black Swan”

PLOT: A young repressed ballerina (Natalie Portman) gets cast as the Swan Queen in her company’s new version of “Swan Lake”.  But when she is tested by her overwhelming controlling mother (Barbara Hershey), her respected director’s (Vincent Cassel) sexual advances, and a new dancer’s (Mila Kunis) threats to take her role, her world begins to unravel, and a dark side begins to emerge. 

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: BLACK SWAN has been getting amazing feedback over the past few months from both critics and regular audiences…a rare feat for a completely original artsy film in an age of remakes and superhero adaptations galore.  Yet does it really live up to its praise and all the awards?

I have never felt so uncomfortable in a movie from the first frame to the last.  Whatever you think this movie is about, throw it out the window because you have no idea.  Darren Aronofsky has created yet another masterpiece that will make you squirm in your seat, not unlike REQUIEM FOR A DREAM did for audiences a decade ago.  Here, we have a character study of a young woman’s struggle for perfection.  She needs to be constantly faultless and tightly wound for both herself and her family, but at the same time, she wants to break free to satisfy herself and her needs.  And with such an internal conflict, the only road is to one hell of a breaking point.

The interesting thing about BLACK SWAN is the fact that even after weeks of release and all the buzz, still the only real things that people know about before they go in is that Natalie Portman does an amazing job, and there’s a lesbian sex scene.  I beg you, if you want the full effect of this film, go in without knowing anything more.  Yes, you have a slight idea that Portman does a good job and is winning all these awards.  What you don’t know is that she is going to levels she never has before.  This girl is in touch with every emotion she possesses and runs the gauntlet.  Mix that with her eerily thin frame, which makes you think that any wrong move or words could break her like a twig, and you have a girl that bothers you for reasons you can’t explain.   As for that lesbian sex scene that everyone is talking about as so hot…if you want an idea of how disturbing the film is, when I say that I was uncomfortable from the first frame to the last, that includes the sex scene as well. 

You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.  Aronofsky has done a startling job directing this film, which seems to fall right in between the aforementioned REQUIEM and THE WRESTLER.  You have a complete character study with a main character that you follow continuously for 108 minutes.  Nina’s in every scene, and there are the same familiar tracking shots following her around the ballroom and her apartment as there are following Randy to the ring.  Yet, at the same time, there are so many moments of cracking, mind games, and misinterpretation that some cuts feel more like something Jennifer Connelly or Marlon Wayans went through during their hallucinations.  The crazy back and forth doesn’t help you settle into your movie-going experience, but you are completely enthralled throughout. 

A little side note…the way the film is being marketed, It seems like more in the thriller/suspense genre.  Yet when walking out, I caught myself saying that it was one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a long time.  Maybe it’s because it wasn’t trying to be a real horror film, but it was so refreshing to be on the edge of my seat and creeped out in a smarter way than just by the gruesome SAW-type kills that are now so common.  BLACK SWAN is like something a darker Hitchcock would do, and I liked being brought back to something smart and scary at the same time.

All these feelings couldn’t be possible, though, without the supporting cast: Vincent Cassel as Portman’s sexually charged director, Mila Kunis as her rival (and technically, closest friend), and Barbara Hershey as her obsessive and controlling mother.  These three actors put their characters in places where they’re sweet and caring in one moment, and evil and manipulative the next.  You don’t know what to expect, and by the end, you realize that you don’t know what is real either, and that’s how it should be.   

This may be one of my shortest reviews, but I was serious when I said that you need to go into BLACK SWAN knowing absolutely nothing.  Even what I said already was probably too much.  Aronofsky has done an incredible job making a movie that will shake you and make you talk and analyze it for days.  The way it is advertised, you go in expecting a thriller of some sort, and instead, you get something that could be put on par with the creepiest Stephen King.  And mark my words: this time next year, Natalie Portman will be billed as an Oscar winner.  Go see BLACK SWAN, and get ready for the many following conversations. 


Mike’s LIKES:
1) NATALIE PORTMAN: Portman has done something here that she has never done before.  There are so many layers to Nina Sayers, and Portman hits every innocent emotion and every non-so-innocent one.  This is her movie.  Mark my words: She WILL win the Best Actress Oscar.

2) MIND MISLEADING: My friends and I literally spent days discussing this film, and we came to the conclusion that with all the interpretations we came up with, every single one of them could be true or false.  When you have that many aspects of a movie that could be debated intelligently, you know you did something right.

3) PAINTINGS: The freakiest part of the entire movie, for so many reasons

4) WYNONA RYDER: She seemed to come out of nowhere when you first saw her, but with the role of the former prima ballerina, Ryder shows she still has the chops and can do some damage in serious roles. 

5) THE MIRROR: Watch out for a very specific, very interesting shot involving Portman and Kunis when they come back into the apartment from their night out. 

1) BLOOD SEEPAGE: This is me trying to find a dislike, and I guess it’s the closest I could get.  I had to suspend disbelief just a tad with how nothing could happen with a certain injury for so long, and then in one minute it all comes out, but it’s only a minor setback that many won’t even think of. 

1) Due to a twisted rib injury, Natalie Portman had to receive physical therapy during filming. According to Darren Aronofsky, Portman is actually undergoing a real physical therapy session in one scene with a real physical therapist.

2) The budget on this film was supposedly ridiculously tight.  When Natalie Portman dislocated a rib during a lift, she was told the budget was so low that there was no medic on set. Portman stated that if they needed to cut items from the budget, they could take away her trailer instead. The next day, her trailer was gone.

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