Natalie Portman

Here’s a joke that was very popular with the tech crew at the Grady Gammage Auditorium in Arizona:

What do ballerinas use for birth control?

Their personalities.

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is being hailed by some as the best film of the year, and a brilliant psychosexual thriller. Sadly, that’s far more hype than the movie deserves, and maybe that’s part of my problem. If I had been sold a creditable – but largely rote – film about psychological self-destruction, I wouldn’t have been disappointed.

It isn’t that Black Swan is awful; In fact, I think it’s Aronofsky’s best film. But given that I have largely hated his previous efforts, I suppose that’s not much of a compliment.

This movie got off on the wrong foot with me early because of the way it’s photographed. Shot by the extremely talented Matthew Libatique, Swan lifts the “camera bouncing along behind the protagonist” aesthetic that we first saw in The Wrestler. I didn’t like it in that film, either, but at least I understood it. It was motivated. In Black Swan it simply feels self-conscious and recycled.

I also had a hard time overcoming Natalie Portman’s character. Portman does a truly inspired job of being absolutely true to the character of Nina, but that character is weak, simpering, self-obsessed and fantastically uninteresting. Her reaction to every hurdle and pitfall is to curl up into a ball and cry. By the end of the movie, I didn’t care if she lived, died, succeeded, failed, ate her mother or took wing and flew away. I was just tired of watching Nina break down and sob at every opportunity. Had Black Swan been about Mila Kunis’ much more interesting and self-sufficient Lily, I probably would have had more patience with what I consider to be the movie’s huge failing: the symbolism.

I’ve said before that I think Aronofsky is similar to Zack Snyder in that they both have a very childish understand of human emotion and motivation. Look at the oh-so-shocking (yawn) dildo-show scene in Requiem for a Dream and tell me a 13-year-old sexuality didn’t conceive that. Black Swan is full of metaphor as distilled through the eyes of a child and then purveyed – supposedly – to adults. From the all black & white set dressing that adorns much of the movie to Natalie Portman being the only dancer in white the first time we see the company assembled to Mila Kunis being the obvious “black sheep” dancer because of her wing-like tattoos (oh, the subtlety) to the moment when Natalie Portman has a tantrum which ends with a shot of the shattered ballerina from her bedside music box, Black Swan is jam-packed with such heavy-handed sledgehammer leitmotif that I often found myself laughing suddenly at the ridiculousness of it all.

Is it a terrible film? No. Is it a work of genius? Certainly not. But would I fuck Mila Kunis senseless given half a chance? Oh, hells yes.

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If I commit suicide, it will not be to destroy myself but to put myself back together again. Suicide will be for me only one means of violently reconquering myself, of brutally invading my being, of anticipating the unpredictable approaches of God. By suicide, I reintroduce my design in nature, I shall for the first time give things the shape of my will. — Antonin Artaud, On Suicide