The Black Swan. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring: Natalie Portman (degrees of separation: Natalie stars with Jean Reno in The Professional; Jean Reno stars with Vincent Cassell in Crimson Rivers; Vincent Cassell stars with Natalie Portman in The Black Swan); Vincent Cassell; Mila Kunis (the only skin in the thing); Wynona Rider (or Winona Ryder, she spells it both ways… and whoa! …someone left the cake out in the rain); Barbara Hershey (come full circuit from her days as “Barbara Seagull” nursing her son, Free, on the set of Boxcar Bertha); Barbra Streisand as the Nutcracker (or is that a different ballet? …yeah, like they’re different!).
I don’t find a lot of time these days what with scratching my butt and drinking beer right outten the bottle and maintaining my Brown and Sharpe screw machine on the job at the plant to catch art flicks, but, what the hey… this one got nominated for Oscar ™. Black swan turn out to be commodity of the market, actually. Watchable 1942 flick with Orson Welles in heavy make-up as a porky Kubla Khan. Foo-foo fairy tale series by Mercedes Somebody. Study of statistical outliers and indictment of I-went-to-biz-school economics by Nassim Taleb (or Taleb Nassim, he signs both ways). And at long last the incomprehensible pabulum of jetés and pliés and en pointes and pas de deux and motionless peerings into the unplumbed, unriffled depths of self-absorbitude (a mirror, in case you missed it, you dummy) and decay into madness of the high- strung artiste (a lot like artist, only, you know, classy unfathomable to us minions of the Lumpenproletariate) by the same guy who did the choreography for the wrestler in… now what’s the name of that movie? …oh, yeah: The Wrestler. So here it comes: dispiriting conflation of every Freudian doodah that could plausibly (or implausibly) be lacquered over the recondite milieu (French for a whole bunch) of those skinny toe-dancers in the funny tights with the caved-in chests and hollow cheeks and swollen entre-jambes (focus of considerable attention in this one, be it added, in case you’re thinking of bringing Father Murphy or young Spottiswood with you) …and the women are just as bad (urf urf)!
Ouch! This thing is so awful I had to scurry home and watch not two but three Steven Seagal movies to cleanse my palate. Queue up Red River twice.
Worstest of all: I know going in that I’m supposed to like it. “Critically-acclaimed” (meaning: check your gummi bears at the door, Dumbo, and brace yourself for a lesson), mooed-over flick about the brittle world of edgy ballerinas (curiously, the psyche of ballerinos does not rate exploration here though it might be pointed out with profit that everyone in the cast at one point or another lays a hand on the étoile’s wah-wah except the male lead… and I think we know why, but that would be ‘nother whole Freudian ‘nother to tackle) and the delicate terpsichory of ballet (a lot like dancing , but on tippy-toe and in funny outfits and skinny and interpretive… the which rule out most of us over-weight, beer-schlurffing lunkhead Gringos). We’re invited to follow the calvary of a fragile flower as she plies her art (French for art) in the doomed pursuit of perfection, notion to which us over-weight, beer-schlurffing lunkhead Gringos may only accede through the watching of films which lay bare the soul of the danse (French for dance) in parabolic images.
I know going in (so do you: from the published reviews) that the flick a) is too heavy for words and b) delivers at some point a dramatization of the innocent young ballerina’s (Natalie Portman’s ) communion with an inner darkness that will allow her to figure both the White Swan and the Black Swan in her performance… kinda like Mike Meyers plays both Austin Powers and Dr. Evil. My fear (realized in all humiliating immediacy) is that I shan’t be able to tell; that the mutation from pure Beauty to unalloyed Evil will occur so subtly, translate itself into movement so delicately that I’ll miss the transition that must be focus to the drama. Sure enough. The danse as realized under the stern tutelage of the French maître (Vincent Cassell) appears to consist largely of flapping ones arms in earthbound circuits on tippy-toes, much I gather as a “swan” might flap frenetically and skim across the surface of the “lake” out of fright, from boredom perhaps, in sexual display? Nina flaps appealingly in a white tutu as she flits tippy-toe across the stage, yet before I know it (I mighta dozed off, now) she’s generating what I swear are the same flapping motions but in a black tutu and poof! …the transflappication has happened and I’ve missed it. Like missing the leg-crossing scene in Basic Instinct.
The story. What story? A tiger-mother (a used-up Barbara Hershey) hounds her ballerina daughter into obsession with the dance in fulfillment of her own shattered dreams, abandoned, as she claim, to have a child. Director of the local troupe (French for troupe) determines to stage yet another Swan Lake but—we understand that the ballet-master is a genius—with a neophyte swaness as both Black and White Swan. Will his vision be vindicated? Will his faith in Nina’s gift be redeemed? Will Nina hold up under the pressure? Will she find the inner resource to turn “black,” the moment come? Will the understudy, the sybaritic Lily (Mila Kunis), undercut the prima? Will the maître de danse seduce, then betray our girl? Will the fate of a jettisoned (jeté-soned) and now suicidal former, Beth (a uuuuuused-up Winona Ryder), become Nina’s? Will the incessant flipping (flapping) between dream-sequence and reality leave the rest of us scratching our heads? In the end, is Nina’s performance dream? Her dream? Our dream? Is that final, terrible plunge into reality or out of it? Whaaa…? A good car-chase woulda cleared most of this up.
Hey. I can appreciate the drive to perfection (never tempted, my own self, but…) and comprehend (vaguely) the agonies of obsession (that cheerleader in 10th grade). I can even admire what Nietzsche (or one of them) called “dancing in chains,” originality, creativity within a circumscribed traditional medium. What I can’t abide is the ascription of gravity to pettiness or profundity to incoherence. In my view, Black Swan is at best a mediocre movie, set off by a difficult if not terribly entertaining performance from a capable young actress , that may illuminate a small precinct of a world unfamiliar to most of us. Karl Jaspers (not Karl Jaspers the philosopher but Karl Jaspers the shortstop for the old Washington Senators) had it that art was a looking glass into which “when a ape peers in, no apostle peers out.” Could be my problem. I do recall that Wilma and Betty were perennially trying to get Fred and Barney up off the couch in front of “the game” to go with them to “the ballet.” Barney’s punch press machine stands right next to my Brown & Sharpe in the shop.