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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Will: Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paycheck, but he gets to hit you with it any time he wants. It doesn’t cost money, it costs votes; it costs airtime, column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fucking smart, how come they lose so goddamn always?
Sharon: Hey!
Will: [to Lewis] And with a straight face, you’re gonna tell students that America’s so star-spangled awesome, that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. [laughs] So 207 sovereign states in the world, like a hundred and eighty of them have freedom.
Moderator: Alright–
Will: And yeah, you, sorority girl. Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know, and one of them is, there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force, and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only 3 categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined. 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20 year old college student. But you, nonetheless, are without a doubt a member of the worst period generation period ever period. So when you ask, “what makes us the greatest country in the world?” I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Yosemite? [Pause] We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were. And we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in our last election. And we didn’t… we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things, and to do all these things, because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. [Pause] Enough?
— WIll McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), The Newsroom