Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan has been pulling in the plaudits on the film festival circuit, but Greg Christie of Twitch was less than impressed. Christie saw the ballerina thriller at the Philadelphia Film Festival, armed with his reviewing flask.
[This is your *SPOILER* Warning folks, there are some details of the film given away below, if you want to go in fresh, come back after Christmas!]
There are times in life where you come to question the reality around you and whether it even exists, or if everything is just a part of your skewed imagination. Watching Black Swan was most certainly one of those experiences. I left the theater feeling like a character from a John Paul Sartre novel. I was unsure of my surroundings and unable to relate to my peers and battled a vicious case of nausea. It was as if a curtain was pulled back and an entirely new world was revealed. Or I may have just taken one too many sips from the magical flask.
Black Swan is about the extremes artists and performers go to create their art, completely losing themselves and all rational perception of the world around them in the process. But it wasn't the story of one dancer's nightmarish journey to embody the Black Swan of Swan Lake that left me bewildered. No, it's the fact that every reputable critic seems to think this is some type of masterpiece.
I'm simply dumbfounded and I really want to know, what fucking version of Black Swan did everyone else in the world see?
Before I begin this review, I'd just like to say that Black Swan is the perfect film to stumble in drunk from a horrifically awkward shiva on a cold and rainy Thursday night. Why? Because this is without a doubt, one of the single most idiotic cinematic experiences of recent memory, and I'm damn sure glad I was good and drunk to better appreciate it.
Essentially, Black Swan is Repulsion & Perfect Blue by way of Showgirls with heavy influences of Brian De Palma & Kenneth Anger thrown in for good measure. In fact, I think I could easily liken this to the work of the Kuchar Brothers as well. With a combination like that, this should play like gangbusters for the cult set. The problem is that this isn't nearly as intelligent of a mindfuck as Repulsion or Perfect Blue. It tries to be a slow burn but comes across as just plain dull for the first hour. Until Natalie Portman starts to turn into a fucking Swan at the end of Act 2, nearly every line of dialogue and every character is about as cliché as they come. And for all of the hokey dialogue and sleazy sex, it lacks the guilty pleasure thrills of Showgirls or the full on psychedelic imagery of Mr. Anger. A fellow programmer and critic told me this was absolutely meant to be taken within the same vein of a Verhoeven film. So it's Showgirls without tits? What the fuck is the point of that?
Aronofsky has taken all of the good will earned from the devastating power and subtly of The Wrestler and blows it on a half baked turkey that surpasses even The Fountain's overwrought melodrama.
Nina (Natalie Portman) is a fragile and meek ballet dancer working for one of New York's most elite companies. She's a perfectionist and the daughter of a loving, yet vindictive and overbearing mother, a former dancer who gave up her career when she had her first child. Nina's mom is now reliving her life vicariously through her daughter.
Nina has been with the company for a number of years and hopes to become a star performer. Winona Ryder plays Beth, the company's aging queen of the stage. She's a pompous diva prone to temper tantrums and a former plaything for company director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel). When Tom forces Beth into retirement, she flips out, calls Nina a whore, and tries to commit suicide.
Nina is selected to replace Beth as the star of Swan Lake, but she's simply too nice and perfect to play the dual role of both the White and Black Swan. The other girls in the company grow to hate Nina, especially Lilly (Mila Kunis), a wild child better suited to play the Black Swan who tries everything she can to ruin her reputation and steal the role.
Thomas uses his director role to try and fuck the virginal Nina. He continues to force her past her boundaries to make her become the Black Swan. All that's missing is a lap dance and a crazy sex scene in a pool.
We learn that Nina may or may not have a long history of dangerous, self-destructive, obsessive compulsive behavior. The pressure placed on her by her mother and the demands of being a dancer has put Nina on the road to complete dementia long ago.
In addition to all of this, there's a fare share of silly, hallucinatory body horror. Nina pulls out toenails and discovers mysterious cuts and bruises. She sees dark and demented versions of herself and her crazed mother on the faces of strangers. There are even scenes where Nina's reflection in mirrors take on a life of their own. Essentially, when we see things through Nina's fractured perspective, it all plays out like any generic J-Horror film. There are a surprising amount of cheap and pointless jump scares that feel out of place. Any comparisons other critics are making to Cronenberg are completely unwarranted.
When Nina finally loses her mind in the final 15 minutes, the film goes off the rails and becomes a camp fest that had this critic chuckling nonstop. And yes, Nina actually transforms into a demonic fucking black swan via bad CG morphing effects mid performance. The ending and its message is nearly identical to The Wrestler without any of the same grace or beauty, ironic for a film about ballet. This was shot within the same vein as The Wrestler as well. It was shot on the same film stock with the same camera by the same DP. This is a batshit insane melodrama handled as if it were cinema verité, a weird choice that leads to an even weirder tone. The sudden descent into complete madness is on par with Leonardo DiCaprio's video game rampage in The Beach.
Natalie Portman masturbates, makes out with another woman, and has Mila Kunis go down on her while a crazed and overbearing mother is screaming bloody murder outside and trying to knock down the bedroom door. This should have been good trashy fun, but everyone is still wearing their clothes and everything is so awkwardly staged and directed that it isn't nearly as hot or fun as it sounds. And holy shit, there's even an electric guitar whammy riff playing when Portman touches herself for the first time, I kid you not!
Portman's dedication to learning ballet for the film is impressive, but I can't fathom the people who claim that her performance is an early contender for the Oscar race. If this is supposed to be the bravest and most daring performance of an actress this year, I'd like to say that Elizabeth Berkeley was better over a decade ago and you obviously haven't seen Amanda Fuller in Red, White, and Blue.
I have to imagine that Aronofsky was playing this for laughs from the beginning, Judging from the other reviews, I know that 75% of everyone here is going to violently disagree with me but Black Swan is a campy and unbelievably silly psychological B movie that feels like early 70's euro trash, once again, albeit, without the trash. Thankfully, the whiskey helped.
This article originally appeared on Twitch.