If you’re a regular reader of my ramblings on all manner of subjects, you’re aware that my interests cover a pretty wide range, but what you may never have considered is that I’m a fan of ballet.
Yes, this punk rock-listenin’, pussy-eatin’, beer-drinkin’ he-man loves himself some prissy/fruity dancers in tights flitting about the stage to the strains of music somehow not performed by The Misfits (although I would love to see a piece danced to “We Are 138”). Y’see, I greatly enjoy choreographed entertainment that displays the human body at the apex of its capabilities, so as far as I’m concerned my love of the ballet (and dance in general) jibes quite naturally with my passion for martial arts films, particularly those made by the Shaw Brothers studio (most of which feature colorful sets and costumes, seamlessly coupled with melodrama). So, with that bit of explanation out of the way, let me unequivocally state that Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN takes the prize as my favorite movie of 2010. Its tale of a deeply fucked-up professional ballerina’s descent into utter madness would have had my attention anyway, but it contains many fun and bizarro touches that its senior citizen-friendly commercials and trailers would in no way be ready for, as I discovered firsthand while seeing it at a matinee on Christmas Eve with my seventy-eight-year-old mom (I was the youngest person in the audience by a good twenty-five-year margin).
BLACK SWAN tells the story of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a dancer with a prestigious (unnamed) New York City ballet company, and what transpires when the company’s now over-the-hill prima ballerina (Winona Ryder) is let go and the search for her replacement begins. The control freak/womanizer director (Vincent Cassel) finds Nina to be ideal for the role of the White Swan in his radical new staging of SWAN LAKE, but he wants the lead dancer to play both the vulnerable/virginal White Swan and the more sensual/bad girl/evil sorcerer’s daughter/doppelganger Black Swan as well (NOTE: I’m assuming you probably have a working knowledge of the ballet in question, but if not, look it up).
A new dancer, Lily (the toothsome Mila Kunis), arrives and catches the director’s eye as a possible lead, but he nonetheless awards the role to Nina, urging her to get in touch with her wild sexual side by masturbating. We also get numerous glimpses into Nina’s fucked-up home life, where she, a twenty-eight-year-old, lives in a state of strictly-enforced infantilism wrought be her twisted mother (Barbara Hershey), a former dancer herself who gave up the profession when she became pregnant with Nina.
Nina and her mom (Barbara Hershey): the most fucked-up onscreen mother/daughter relationship since that of Margaret and Carrie White.
Her mother seeks to vicariously enjoy the career that she gave up through Nina’s efforts and keeps her daughter in a dependent emotional state on the level of a semi-pubescent girl. As the story progresses, Nina comes to see Lily as a rival for the lead role and also witnesses the sad deterioration of the over-the-hill prima ballerina she replaced (Winona Ryder), and with that kind of mess fueling her already damaged psyche, Nina soon barrels headfirst down a path to outright insanity and hallucinations.
Nina walks on the wild side with a considerable amount of help from the outgoing Lily. Or does she?
Saying more would give away a number of wacko twists and turns, so I’ll stop with the synopsis at this point and simply recommend the film wholeheartedly. I will, however, state that the film’s much-mentioned girl-on-girl sequence involving Portman and Kunis is fairly tame (no trace of nudity, though nonetheless fun), but it did elicit some amusing responses from one of the ancient audience members. As previously stated, I saw BLACK SWAN at a matinee in CT with my 78-year-old mom and found it to be a film that contains a hell of a lot of stuff that most of the oldsters lured in by the film’s trailers and commercials definitely do NOT want to see. The many grannies in the audience were horrified and confused by the proceedings and my favorite audience moments were the following:
1. When a very vocal woman around my mother's age astutely and loudly noted when Mila Kunis was going down on Natalie Portman, "Oh, my GOD! She's A LESBIAN!!!" which was greeted by many of the others viewers with futile shooshing. I responded to the sight of a wild-eyed and eager Mila Kunis lapping on Natalie Portman’s oh-so-innocent pussy with an exclamation of “Thank you, Santa!” that brought appreciative laughs from the like-minded dirty old men in the audience.
2. There were many expressions of confusion from the audience when Portman began transforming into Daffy Duck in her bedroom (yes, you read that right). The previously mentioned old biddy loudly asked her equally aged hubby, "Do you understand what the hell's going on?" and her hubby responded with “She’s hallucinating, dear,” while the rest of those in attendance yelled for her to shut the fuck up.
I was very surprised to see my mom enjoyed it as much as she did because she is majorly opposed to foul language and any depiction of sexuality onscreen, especially anything having to do with homosexuality with either gender, and she nearly gagged when Mila "dined at the Y."
Anyway, BLACK SWAN is pretty over-the-top for an A-list Hollywood film and that’s the aspect that drew me to it from the get-go, although the VILLAGE VOICE’s claim that it was the most outrageous piece of camp to hit the screen since SHOWGIRLS is typical of their often-inaccurate hyperbole. Yes, it contains a ton of overblown hissy-fits, overripe dialogue, and cheesy psychological horror that brings to mind stuff like STRAIT JACKET and HOMICIDAL, but it doesn’t even begin to approach the excesses of the legendary SHOWGIRLS. But then again, honestly, what the hell could? Taken on its own unique merits, BLACK SWAN is a thoroughly entertaining fusion of the behind-the-scenes “arts” drama and old school potboiler horror of the type once common to the glory days of made-for-TV movies. It’s got a lot more genuine glitz and talent going for it than those fondly remembered chestnuts, but you get what I mean. In short, BLACK SWAN is more or less THE RED SHOES or THE TURNING POINT as filtered through an E.C. Comics sensibility, and on that basis alone it warrants your attention.
Nina dances the Black Swan and imagines herself physically transforming into the "bad girl" waterfowl.