Monday, December 6, 2010

Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010) -- B-

To laud Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan as a great film (tempting as that might be for some) would be to forsake its cinematic antecedents - forsake, because Aronofsky misunderstands what makes them so great (The Red Shoes, Suspiria, Carrie, Possession, and Mulholland Dr. are all in play here) while opting for a connect-the-dots game of pop-Freudian psycho-drama cum monstrous-feminine posturing. There's so much wrong with the film, one doesn't know where to start; but the wrong is also what makes it ever so close to right - if only the director were able to massage a little more nuance and a whole lot more satire from the all too neatly situated proceedings. Opening with aspiring ballet dancer Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) haunted by a nightmare, Aronofsky (and the screenplay by three relative newbies) can't help but explicitly announce what's happening at every turn. Repressed Nina is watched over by her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey) - and has suspicions that newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) may have it out for her. We know this because Nina literally projects herself onto Lily (seeing the dark side her instructor (Vincent Cassel) encourages her to unearth), or even the look-a-like she passes in a dark alley. Mirrors constantly double her - her alternate, uninhibited self is yearning to be freed - a metaphor the film makes literal as her body transforms into a beast. The simplistic psychological renderings are alleviated somewhat by the sheer exuberance of Aronofsky's filmmaking - it does not excuse the comprehensive risibility of the film, but does make for memorable sequences, including Nina's face-down masturbation on her bed, a rave scene which should have gone on much, much longer, and the denoument, as Nina takes stage as Swan Queen. What's missing from the film, however, is an honest sensibility towards understanding Nina's drive and passion as an artist, something that does not consistently indulge the easier, perhaps sexier route of hellbent obsession leading to madness. All Aronofsky really seems to be interested in is seeing sexy women go nuts - a plight I would wholeheartedly endorse were he able to at least bring an interesting visual ideology to the film, which is not to say Black Swan isn't well shot or composed; it is. Yet, Aronofsky's surface abilities and musings, while good for an energetic romp, fail to yield anything that would warrant further consideration.

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