Friday, 21 January 2011



Already this film is a Golden Globe winner, a highly probable multi-Oscar winner, it's receiving generally positive reviews from critics and twitterers alike, and it's presently #51 in the IMDb's Top 250 (above Double Indemnity, A Clockwork Orange and Aliens). Everyone seems to think it's amazing. So why don't I? Given that it is not just a psychological horror film, but a thoroughly bonkers one, particularly in its last half hour, why aren't I as enraptured as the rest of the world? As much as I try, I honestly can't justify the magic five stars for it. Indeed, it's only just a four. And while it doesn't usually worry me when the rest of the world lauds a particular film that I simply don't get, and I stand there like a lemon wondering what the hell they're all smoking, it does annoy me that in this instance I simply can't feel the love. Because it's a film for which I should feel the love.

I'm not saying I didn't like Black Swan. I did, very much. But my mind refused to be blown by it and I didn't leave the cinema cheering and that's what disturbs me. It's set in the world of ballet, which automatically brings to mind the wonderful Suspiria, and features Natalie Portman (of whom I should make clear I am not a fan) as Nina, a repressed, frigid, but technically accomplished dancer picked by veteran choreographer Vincent Cassel for the lead roles in his new, visceral production of Swan Lake - the White Swan (good, pure, innocent) and the Black Swan (evil and twisted). But while she can manage the White with no trouble, she needs to find her inner darkness in order to bring her Black Swan to life rather than it being a technically perfect but textbook performance.

So just as there are two Swans, there seem to be two Ninas: not just in terms of the doppelganger she occasionally sees on the train, or in her reflections, but in the sense that she appears to be transforming: not just physically (culminating in her debut performance where we see her literally becoming a black swan) but in her character as she battles for her own privacy and freedom from her overprotective mother (Barbara Hershey), and battles her younger, more intuitive and graceful rival for the role (Mila Kunis). Much of this is the disintegration and collapse of her own personality, perhaps under the pressure of imminent stardom in a role she's not ready for, and a natural rebellion against the forces, particularly her mother, that have kept her shielded from life.

It's a horror film, sure - albeit one which mostly takes place inside Nina's head as she finds her inner Black Swan - and while it seems to start out as a fairly regular film, as the movie progresses it gets steadily madder (and ballet is a pretty mad place from which to start) and comparisons have been made with Dario Argento, and the juxtaposition of High Art and homicidal insanity bring to mind Terror At The Opera, my favourite Argento picture. It's also beautifully shot, there's the use of Tchaikovky's music within the score, Vincent Cassel is terrific, there are several queasy sequences of body-horror in the vein of The Fly, and the CGI effects sequences are superb.

And certainly it's my favourite Aronofsky film so far, although I still haven't seen The Wrestler, and while I didn't care for Pi at all, I half-admired Requiem For A Dream and I did rather like The Fountain. So I keep coming back to the question: why, why didn't I adore it? Maybe I need to see it again, as some films certainly take a second viewing (Aliens left me cold first time but it's now one of my Top Five of all time). I did like it, I honestly did like it, but there's a nagging unknown something that's stopping me from loving it. Or possibly I'm simply trying too hard and it's just a very good, not great, film. Either way, I'd certainly like more films of this ilk.


When it comes out....


Alli Price said...

I'm shocked you don't like Natalie Portman. I did love Black Swan and was surprised that my male friend who went with me came out wanting to see Swan Lake "now I understand what's going on" - not a bad result for the film I thought.

Richard Street said...

Well, I did like Black Swan! But I've never been in the Portman fanclub. Maybe it goes back to The Other Boleyn Girl, and the ludicrous idea that the King would throw over S Johansson for the woman out of the Star Wars prequels.... :)