Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gee, do you think this movie is about duality?

Everyone's been spoojing all over Black Swan, and I was super excited for it myself based on the trailer alone. I finally saw it last night and I was pretty meh about it. I enjoyed myself for the most part, but I didn't think it was actually a good movie. And the last five minutes pretty much ruined the whole thing for me. Spoilers ahead.

First, the good: I thought the performances were all fantastic, including Natalie Portman, who I've never liked much (I think I'm coming around on that though), and delightful, underused Winona Ryder. Even better is the art direction and costume design. SA commented on the way out that it felt very believably New Yorky, and I agree. Nina's apartment was completely realistic for the location and likely household budget, while also being creepy and claustrophobic. The costumes and visual effects are gorgeous. The oppressive, cinderblock world of the theater was great, and made me feel bad for whoever has to actually work in that location all the time. But I loved how it captured the real lack of glamour that often lives behind the scenes, even if it was a little over-the-top because they were also going for the whole psychological oppression thing. I actually liked how the dancers' world was portrayed in general, despite how little dancing there actually was for an ostensible dance movie. Except for crazy Nina, the theater looked pretty much like a regular workplace. Everyone shows up, does their job, goes home. They have friends, they gossip, they don't take it too seriously. You get a sense that all those people in the background have lives, and just happen to have an unusual job. I feel like that's often missing from backstage dramas. I especially liked the little moments with the physical therapist and the wardrobe supervisor, which didn't even feel scripted.

But that sense of lightness is absent from most of the movie. Okay, it's a psychological thriller, it shouldn't be light, but did it need to be so goddamn pretentious? Look, a reflective surface! The film could have been campy fun, but it's too busy taking itself so very seriously to let us laugh. But I didn't think it was good enough to justify all that heaviness. The people behind Burlesque set out to make a new camp classic, and wound up making a halfway decent movie by accident. The result was a film that was neither good enough to be good, nor bad enough to be funny. I felt similarly about Black Swan, but in reverse. They tried to make something artsy and deep, and didn't quite make it, but sucked all the fun out along the way. I think I had a better time at Burlesque.

Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy Black Swan. I did! Nina's transformation scenes were wonderfully creepy and cringe-inducing (in a good way), and her descent into madness was completely believable even though it was also completely absurd. The sequence where she turns into a swan onstage was one of the most beautiful things I've seen on screen in a long time. But it's really because of all that that I think the end of the movie left such a bad taste in my mouth, because in a pretty tightly-constructed world, where the lines of reality and madness were, if not exactly clearly drawn, drawn in a way that felt believable for Nina's experience, the final twist made not one bit of sense.

(Seriously, major spoilers.) So Nina performs an act of Swan Lake, then stabs Mila Kunis with a shard of mirror (never mind how she has time to hide the body and do a full makeup and costume change during a 15-minute intermission; that I can forgive), then performs act two, then finds out she didn't really stab Mila Kunis but actually stabbed herself (and she has, at some point, put back on the very white costume she supposedly stabbed herself in, then took off), pulls the mirror bit from her body and her white white costume, and dances a whole other act before a) dying and b) anyone notices she is bleeding all over the place. HUH??? Look, this girl has been hallucinating for days. I'm totally down with all of this stabbing being completely psychological. And a final reveal that the blood wasn't real and she just died of craziness (or, better yet, jumped off the thing and deliberately missed the crash pad) would have been all I needed to make the ending work.

Writing it out like that I think maybe it wasn't supposed to be real, but we do consistently see the blood in shots from other people's point of view, including at the very end, which hadn't been the convention of the movie until then. It was sloppy, and it made me leave the theater with a bad taste for the whole thing. The deeply pretentious credits ("Beth Macintyre/The Aging Swan" WE GET IT) were the final blow.

But, y'know, going through it now I think maybe I need to give it another chance on DVD. Maybe it's one of those movies that gets better on repeat viewings, when you know all the twists and can look for the clues. And enough people whose opinions I trust really really like it. On the other hand, my favorite professional movie critic, Slate's Dana Stevens, agrees with me pretty completely, so I'll leave you with a link to her. The review is good, the podcast is even better.

1 comment:

Adam807 said...
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