Saturday, March 19, 2011

Black Swan

Alternate Title:  Crazy Bitch

One sentence synopsis:  A crazy ballerina gets the lead in Swan Lake and tries to meet its requirements while going more crazy.

Things Havoc liked:   I know nothing of ballet, in essence, but I do know at least of Swan Lake, which is considered to be the most difficult role in existence for a starring ballerina. Though artsy bullshit does tend to bore me, this movie gets across why that is very well. It's not ballet torture porn, but it does quite effectively portray just what makes ballet so difficult, both on an artistic and a physical level.

The acting is generally excellent. Natelie Portman spends half the movie bound up like a straitjacket and the other half batshit crazy. She won an oscar for this one, an award she probably deserves for sheer insanity if nothing else. Vincent Cassel (who I love, but I often see in shit movies) is hilariously sleazy without being a complete cariacature of a jackass. He clearly wants to lord power over the ballerinas, and yet wants to make great art even more. Barbara Hershey is devilishly good as Portman's also-crazy possessive mother. She and Portman do this crazy one-upping dance throughout the movie where you constantly re-evaluate who is the crazier.

But really, the acting is just a vehicle, if not an excuse, for the psychodrama. I'm not usually fond of psychodrama, but this was supposed to be oscar-calibre psychodrama, so I figured why not. Well I don't really know if I'd call this psycho-stuff oscar calibre, but it's pretty damn good, I have to admit. The movie makes no attempt to play the "is she crazy or not" game. She is plainly, obviously crazy, and the game becomes sorting through her insanity to determine what is actually going on. If that sounds annoying, I must report that it never becomes so, a tribute to skillful direction, writing, and editing.

The imagery in this movie is fucked up. Granted, my tastes in such things are distinctly weird. I don't go in for horror movies, particularly the crazy kinds. I'm not saying the movie is scary or horrifying, but it is unsettling in the extreme. The overall psychological thriller style of the film makes these weird fantastical elements starker. Several scenes in particular, or rather images from those scenes, stand out even now, several weeks after the fact. Any movie that leaves such an impression can't be doing everything wrong.

Things Havoc disliked:   The pacing in this film sucks. Entire sections of it were added, in my opinion, just to make the thing long enough to qualify as a feature film. The entire nightclub sequence was un-necessary, and while yes, I enjoyed watching Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis having lesbian sex (I am human), I wish it was actually associated in some way with the actual film.

Speaking of Mila Kunis, you might have noticed that I left her out of my listing of how awesome the cast was. There's a reason for that. In a movie where everyone else is top form, it would be nice if she had played a character that was from the same planet as everyone else. I don't know that it's her fault, but 'who gives a crap' California irreverence doesn't work all that well when you're trying to portray ballet as a hotbed of insanity and dark passions. She seems stupid, and consequently Portman seems stupid for alternately being attracted to her or resenting her. Yes, Portman is crazy, but crazy and stupid are two very different things, and she pushes us towards the latter.

Final thoughts:   Someone asked me what I thought of this movie when I first saw it. I said that I was going to write this review in the following manner:

Things Havoc Liked: ?????????

Things Havoc Disliked: Pickles.

Like and dislike really don't enter into this one in the way that I assumed, when I started doing this, that all movies would. This movie was weird, not in an artsy theater-of-the-absurd way, nor in a fuck-with-the-audience way, neither of which I care for. It was weird in that time-honored manner, in which a movie is populated with weird characters in the reasonable expectation that weird shit will happen. It isn't precisely a dark film, though it is very dark in parts, nor a thriller, though it is very tense. It isn't really anything specific, and I left the theater completely baffled by what I actually thought of it. Even now, after several weeks to think it over, all I get when I think of the movie is a few striking images and a deep sense of unease. Perhaps that's a testament to a good and well-made film. Perhaps it's a complete mess. I really don't know what to say otherwise.

Final Score:  6.5/10

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