Black Swan (2010)

DECEMBER 19, 2010


When I first heard about Black Swan, nothing really screamed "Horror!" to me - it sounded like some David Lynch-ian drama about competitive ballet dancers, in other words - something I probably wouldn't bother with at all, let alone go see in theaters. But then I get the new Fangoria and it's on the cover, and my pal Devin called it the best horror movie of the year, so I knew I had to check it out.

Well, it IS a David Lynch-ian drama about competitive ballet dancers, but with blood, some jump scares, and even an Argento-ish stabbing thrown in to keep folks like me satisfied. But at the same time, I still wouldn't suggest seeing it EXPECTING a horror movie - there is no "killer", no twist, nothing supernatural... it's like expecting a comedy out of a movie like A Few Good Men because you heard Kevin Pollak has a few good one-liners.

You can, however, expect a great movie, because it is one. Natalie Portman has never interested me beyond the obvious visual appeal, but she is flat out terrific here (and she'd have to be - she's in just about every frame of the film), and will hopefully pick up a few awards over the next few months. Her rather ageless look is a tremendous benefit to the film - she's essentially playing a girl who still has the mentality of a young child (thanks to a domineering mother - she still calls her "mommy" for pete's sake), and there's a line that suggests that by the time a dancer is 28 they are already in the twilight of their career (Portman herself is 28, but can easily pass for 20, which I THINK is roughly how old she's supposed to be here).

It's also one of those films that follows the structure of a story while being about that story, sort of like Scrooged (I'm sure there are better examples, but it being the holidays and all...). Portman and the others are putting on a production of Swan Lake, and the film's plot mirrors that of the classic tale. And don't worry if you haven't seen it (I sure as hell haven't), because Vincent Cassell summarizes it early on so you can get the jist of the mirroring, if not all of the minor allusions (every character in the movie has a second name - i.e. Erica Sayers/The Queen - but the role of the Queen with regards to Swan Lake doesn't quite come across). In other words, if you know Swan Lake, you will enjoy the parallels, but if you're an ignoramus like me, you can still enjoy the story.

Shut up BC, this is HMAD, what about the horror? Well, Portman spends the whole movie bleeding from both her back and her fingernails (a minor plot point that gave me unwelcome flashbacks to the movie Abandon), and there's a lot of "things might not be as they seem" stuff (including seeing herself on the subway) that I can't really get into without spoiling things. And there's a scene where a character suddenly begins stabbing herself in the face with a nail file, which is terrifying at first and wonderfully insane (in fact there's a 10 minute section of the film that's pretty hyper and crazy start to finish, but again, discussing much would be spoiler-y).

I must admit that I have yet to see Pi or Requiem For A Dream, and while I enjoyed The Fountain, it didn't make me want to rush out and correct that (ditto for The Wrestler, with the added bonus of me not understanding why everyone was flipping their shit for it). Black Swan, however, has pushed me in that direction (I actually OWN Pi, just never got around to watching it). Even though Aronofsky didn't write this one (he wrote or co-wrote most of his other films), it's a much more interesting movie on a technical/visual level than The Wrestler, which covered similar territory (albeit in a less fantastical way). It's not really fair to compare to The Fountain, since that was a big budget spectacle (of sorts), but at any rate, Swan showed that he can tackle an abstract/metaphorical story without baffling me (as Fountain often did) - I was pretty enthralled throughout, not even noticing the near 2 hour running time. You know a movie's good when I, who can easily get restless with a 70 minute film, doesn't check his watch throughout!

If I had one issue (SORT OF UNAVOIDABLE SPOILER AHEAD) it would be the extreme lengths Aronofsky and company go to in order to try to keep you guessing about the true nature of Mila Kunis' character. The way some folks react to her (particularly Barbara Hershey as Portman's mom) doesn't quite make sense if you think about it, though I guess one could assume we are seeing everything, including reactions, through Portman's eyes. Doesn't really matter, but it kind of irked me nonetheless. Spiral did this sort of thing far more effectively, in my opinion.

Like I said earlier, I think going in wanting a full blown horror movie would be detrimental, not unlike say Repulsion or The Tenant (or perhaps one of those Miike films you guys all love so much). As long as you go in expecting a damn fine psychological drama, you should be quite impressed, and not be shouting at your TV if it wins some awards come Oscar time.

What say you?


  1. Awesome comments! I haven't seen Black Swan yet because it's Australian release isn't until Jan 20, and I missed out on a rare advanced screening a few months back. But it has been on my radar for months now. I love Aronofsky and I don't think he received enough recognition for The Wrestler. Thanks for the insights to the horrific qualities of the film. I didn't go too far because I didn't want to spoil it for myself, but cheers for the post.


  2. Loved this flick. Great cast, Portman deserves the Oscar this year, while Kunis also deserves some recognition. I think Hershey's attitude towards Kunis reflects her protective attitude more than Portman's twisted POV. She doesn't want anyone influencing her daughter other than her. (If I remember correctly, seen it over a week ago)

  3. Hmmm... maybe "Phantom of the Opera" would make for a good example of the sophisticated man's "mirror-structure movie" as you lined it out? No phantom-version I know features Bill Murray-film, though. So you should stick with your analogy.

    As for Pi, I think it should easily suffice your hmad-standards, so you could go ahead and watch it as its part of what you do anyway.

    As for Black Swan, yeah, amazing movie, definitely.

  4. Pi will definitely feature on your site once you watch it!!

  5. I've never seen Pi, unfortunately, but Requiem for a Dream is amazing.

    I love it, but it disturbs me so much that I have trouble rewatching it.

  6. Watch Requiem. That's all I can say to anyone who hasn't seen it. Amazing. WATCH IT!!!!

  7. I'm with you that even a 70 minute movie has me checking my watch every 5 minutes after about 40 minutes in, but this too kept my attention the whole time and was absolutely amazing.

  8. I say that watching this film is now unavoidable. While the trailer was intriguing I wasn't sure it'd be worth a trip to the theater. Now, off to the movie I shall go.

  9. Best film of the year?
    FUCK yes.

    I loved it, start to finish, and was absolutely blown away by EVERY performance. Portman and Kunis play off each other awesomely and Winona Ryder's performance is a nice addition by a true veteran :)


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