black swan

tonight i went to the movies for the third time this year. yes, third time, and yes, i’m talking calendar year. gregorian calendar. i don’t get out much, okay? i went with my friend matt to see Black Swan, which he has already seen eight times. matt claims my movie tastes don’t count for anything because i like david lynch and wes anderson. but matt has paid to see black swan eight times, so take that with a grain of salt.

matt already got this tattooed on the inside of his eyelids.

i really, really wanted to like this film. i like aronofsky, though i am not familiar with his entire oeuvre, just pi and requiem for a dream. i like mila kunis and natalie portman, and of course i like swan lake. i can’t tell if knowing the basis of the story of swan lake made it harder for me to enjoy the film or not, but seeing (and knowing, thanks to a previous viewer’s tip) the basic plot of the ballet run throughout the movie kind of killed the story for me. i anticipated pretty much every scene in the last half of the film. usually i can only predict references to suicide, so this is either a total film-viewing breakthrough for me or a fault of the story.

here’s what i did like:

music. duh. if you don’t think the russian composers were the best, then you suck. the soundtrack had a lot of the regular swan lake music, and nina’s leitmotif was a reworking of tchaikovsky’s swan theme. pretty nice to hear it over and over again.

winona. i looooooove winona. i wanted to be her when i was younger: petite, waif-like, big brown doe eyes and brown hair. it’s nice to see her again.

several elements of this film reminded me of something russian: for one, all of the young dancers whose names you learn are russian: nina, lily, and veronica. the overall theme of duality reminded me of something that i’ve read, and i thought it could be master and margarita (since there’s like eight thousand themes in that story; also, master and margarita is pretty Faustian and there are elements of that in Black Swan), but now i think it was dostoevsky’s novella “the double”. “the double”, like the ballet swan lake, includes variations on the german theme of doppelgangers (and is available in the iBooks store for $2.99!). for the record, dear matty, david lynch likes doppelgangers too.

matt says that, as someone who wants to edit films, he liked the effort put into the details. it’s not the first time i’ve noticed this (danny boyle did it with red and green in 28 Days Later) but the use of both black and white was very intentional throughout. everything that represented good little nina was white: she always wore white, never black, until her character finally gained the duality of both the black and white swans. everyone who stood in her way to becoming open to both aspects of herself wore black (her mother, lily). thomas, the one who forced nina to explore both sides of her personality, was always wearing gray (black + white = grey, remember?), had a black-and-white office, and lived in a black-and-white house. i did like the use of colour to represent aspects of the protagonist, but i noticed it in the first ten minutes.

here’s what i didn’t like:

there were so many unanswered questions: if nina is such a good girl, which did she steal beth’s stuff? why does she puke all the time: because that’s how she stays skinny for dance? because she has a stomach virus? because she’s a nervous wreck? why is she hallucinating all the damn time, and why doesn’t this concern her? who masturbates in the tub with their head UNDER the water?

and the shocks. oh, the random shocking scenes: someone right behind you, a torn or bloodied digit, removing newly-developed avian plumage. after the first shocker, i began to expect them. what could have been used as a vehicle to create drama and tension was really just like an annoying attempt to get the viewer to remain staring at the screen. i suppose the jarring scenes were supposed to make you uncomfortable, but dolby audio of nail clipping doesn’t frighten me. it just annoyed me because i thought the story would’ve benefited from more character development instead. if nina’s paranoia and obsession had been shown in more subtle ways, it would’ve made her more understandable.

it had the opportunity to show a woman in her twenties from the perspective of a successful woman in her twenties. we make the world go ’round, seriously. ask mr. subway admirer: every male role in this film is in some way attracted to the strong female lead, and she didn’t have to slut it up to make it happen. she just had to grow as a person, albeit in a sexual way, but still: if you don’t embrace your sexuality by the time you’re out of college, you’re gonna have a pretty boring life. if you keep embracing it in your sixties, you’re mr. subway admirer.

when i think about swans, i touch myself.

overall, i dissected everything. at no point was i able to sit back and enjoy the film as what i assume it was intended to be: a beautiful retelling of a classic story with some hot chicks thrown in for good measure. it seemed disjointed, and every time i started to find myself trying to invest in the plot or the characters, one of those annoying drama-for-the-sake-of-drama scenes would come along and expel me from the place i was in. it was a decent film, entertaining to a certain point, but i can’t help but think it would be better without some of aronofsky’s trademark bits. it came off gimmicky.

i leave you with this: what if david fincher directed Black Swan? well, winona’s character would’ve been helena bonham carter, but otherwise, i bet it would have been a more psychologically gripping film.


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