Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Black Swan

Natalie Portman does a brilliant job. Unfortunately, the director doesn’t, which is a pity because the concept of Black Swan is a good one. Professional ballet dancers work very, very hard. They deal with immense physical pain and have to develop the complementary mental endurance from early childhood. When the mind is trained to put in this level of commitment, it could easily start responding to everything with the same intensity, with all the attendant danger of going into overload. Natalie Portman’s character, Nina, is a rabidly committed ballerina who gets the prima ballerina slot she wants so badly, but at a very high cost - her mind crumbles under the pressure. The movie follows her into her breakdown.

At least, that’s what it wants to do, except that said breakdown is illustrated with a parade of horror-film gimmicks, making for many cheap thrills (I very quickly took to hiding behind my hair when she stopped in front of a reflective surface), but paradoxically lessening the real horror of her decline. A lighter sprinkling of those moments, a subtler build-up to the finale, and it would have been a classic. As it is, it’s just Scream in tutus. Add an obsessive mother treated to appear borderline psychotic, a boss who preys on his prima ballerinas and a mostly one-dimensional supporting cast, and Nina is reduced to an out-of-the-ordinary psycho in the manner of those strange kids in Blair Witch 2. Instead of taking you down with her, it makes you a mere spectator.

Maybe the movie is meant to be a spectacle rather than a tragedy, but there’s nothing in the posters or the write-ups to suggest a simple horror flick. My sister-in-law and I jumped quite a bit at the first manifestation, rather dismayed that we'd picked this kind of movie for a night show. The preview of Scream 4 that preceded it should have been our first clue, but we were too busy eating popcorn and agreeing that we should have smuggled in chicken wings.

The bits with actual ballet in it were very good.

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