“Black Swan” was one of those movies I just had to see. After all, it’s described as a psychological thriller about ballet. So, what’s not to like?
Well, just about everything. I didn’t merely dislike this film, I loathed it.
“Black Swan” is suspenseful, all right. But the non-stop suspense involves one thing and one thing only: exactly when will the next flesh-rending Grand Guignol moment occur? It’s difficult to make viewers feel simultaneously horrified, exhausted, and bored, but the film’s relentless one-note assault manages to accomplish that mean feat.
The characters consist of cliché after cliché after cliché: the sexually predatory ballet company director; the shy, bulimic, repressed underling dancer who finally gets her Big Chance; the pretend friend and rival who just might be an enemy in disguise; the jealous older dancer who’s all washed up; the enmeshed and controlling ballet mother who sacrificed her career to…well, you get the idea.
And the sex—let’s not forget the sex. The movie certainly doesn’t. Every sexual encounter between two people (although the movie’s specialty is actually sex for one) is decidedly unpleasant. The obligatory lesbian sex scene is probably the only one of its kind in which viewers are justifiably afraid that one of the actresses is literally going to eat the other—as in “sink teeth into, draw blood, and devour.”
If that doesn’t strike your fancy, there’s the dancing. After all, this is a dance movie, right? All dance films must face the question of whether to cast dancers in the leading roles and sacrifice the acting, or cast actors in the leading roles and sacrifice the dancing. “The Red Shoes” and “The Turning Point (see this for a personal note) resolved the dilemma in favor of dancers who could act somewhat. In “Black Swan,” it’s actresses who can dance somewhat.
Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis do a pretty good job—good but not great, since it’s an impossible task to fake artistry and/or professional technique. The camera obsessively follows the movements of Portman’s slender, flexible upper body in claustrophobic closeups which make her seem convincing as a dancer, although a relatively uninteresting one. She can rise on her toes and perform simple movements respectably, as well. But when bravura technique is required, it’s a long shot and a body double to the rescue.
But in fact, none of the dancing in the film is of interest as dance per se, and there really isn’t that much of it anyway. But dance is not what this movie is about—it’s “Rosemary’s Baby” crossed with “Repulsion,” sur les pointes. If that seems like a mixed metaphor—well, it is.
[NOTE: In the life-imitates-art department, star Portman is now pregnant and engaged to the NYC Ballet dancer who plays the brief role of the Prince in the film, handsome Benjamin Millepied. Until the filming began, Millepied had a live-in girlfriend, American Ballet Theatre dancer Isabella Boylston. This would make Portman the Other Woman, just like Odile, the Black Swan is in "Swan Lake." Does that make Boylston Odette, the White Swan?]