Thursday, February 10, 2011

Caught Black Swan

George and I saw Black Swan with Natalie Portman and we both felt a bit disappointed afterward. There were some wonderful performances. Natalie Portman, of course, as the timid and repressed Nina, Barbara Hershey in a great turn as Nina's creepily overprotective mother and Mila Kunis as Portman's rival/friend Lily.

Portman trained for a year for this role and lost around 10 pounds. She's small, anyway, so she looked convincing as a ballet dancer. The French actor Vincent Cassel, looking a little more gaunt than usual (did they make him lose weight, too?), was fine as the Director of the company. Somehow, though, I found myself wondering more about how ill, mentally and physically, Portman's character was than I was about her ability to dance as the Black Swan. Director Darren Aronofsky doesn't shy away from illustrating a character's mental state, particularly when it's precarious. (See the wonderful Requiem for a Dream.)

I would recommend the movie despite feeling a bit let-down. I found some things too predictable -- Nina is emotionally fragile and is still treated like a small child by her mother with whom she lives. You know it's only a matter of time before all of the stuffed animals in her bedroom (which still looks like it probably did when she was 5 years old) get the old heave-ho. For someone who has been dancing in the corps of an important ballet company and is in her 20's, I wouldn't have expected her to be so timid that she barely speaks above a whisper. Of course, because she is this kind of person, it makes her transformation at the expense of her already delicate psyche more dramatic and frightening.

I found myself comparing my impression of Black Swan with two other movies I'd seen recently, The King's Speech and Social Network. I'm sure some of this is due to all of the attention and awards all three of these movies are currently receiving. I just didn't feel that Black Swan was on the same level over-all as a film.

Natalie Portman is the favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. She deserves it as much as anyone else nominated -- I've always liked her -- but I find myself thinking of the wonderful performance by Jennifer Lawrence in the lesser-known Winter's Bone. Lawrence is also nominated and, like Portman's character in Black Swan, they both go through a type of hell, although their experiences and lives are as different as night and day. I admit to liking Winter's Bone very much and hope that having an actress nominated in the same category as Natalie Portman for many of the awards will bring the movie more exposure.


  1. I used to know a couple of ballet dancers. One gave me an idea of how physically demanding the profession is. The other gave me an idea of how hard it is to do as a profession and get paid for it. Also, there is the question of how ballet dancers are supposed to 'look.' I think one of Ballanchine's dancers wrote a book on how he wanted that long-necked, slim look in his dancers. Very hard to keep the weight down and the strength up.

  2. I took ballet for just over 1 year. When we hit the actual toe shoes -- I was out. Excruciating pain. Made me really appreciate it not only as an art form but for what the dedicated dancer endures.