5/5 Bear Claws
“Black Swan” is a slow roll into the deranged mind of a twentysomething ballet perfectionist with a little bit of hypersexuality thrown into the mix.
That description is basically the best one that I can bestow on a film, and “Black Swan” hits all of my buttons in really specific ways. On the surface the film is about a young woman, Nina, who is attempting to play both the white swan and the black swan in a production of “Swan Lake”. The director, the Frenchiest French director ever played, repeatedly taunts her with the statement that she is not sporadic or free enough to truly embody the role.
Cue the slow dissolution of her reality, leading into some very unsavory bits toward the end of the movie — there’s violence, and it’s not all physical.
But that’s not the good part of “Black Swan.” To talk about the movie, we need to talk about the director. Darren Aronofsky is a filmmaker that is overly concerned with the body. From his first film “PI”, in which the main character solves his problems with a drill to his own brain, to his second-to-most-recent film “The Wrestler,” where a man is only worth the pain he can endure, Aronofsky wants to see how far human beings can go. Nina, a “perfect” ballet dancer, is no different.
“Black Swan” exists wholly in this vein of filmmaking. From the beginning of the movie we see Nina’s body altered in two distinct ways. The first is the definition of her muscles; though that is normal for ballet dancers, I found it unsettling. I don’t see that every day, and Aronofsky banks on that. He’s showing us just how Other someone can be while doing something that most people think of as normal.
At the same time, Nina is experiencing a rash — it turns out later that it is goose flesh, and by the end of the film, it is full-blown feathers and the moviegoer cannot be sure if it is pure fantasy or reality.
The modification of the body and the body’s ability to take on a new role with the mind are both core in “Black Swan,” but it is sadly one of the few things that make the movie truly interesting. More often than not, it goes for cheap shots: a crazy mother, an intense rivalry, the Frenchy French director. It would be easy to say that it can be distilled down into these stock moments of frustration. It would be easy to say that Nina is developed in a very linear, traditional, “crazy girl” way.
I am resistant to that. Nina blooms both violently and sexually during the film, and that is easy to focus on, but there is a third way that seems to be overlooked — she develops as an artist. The body, changed like the mind, threatens itself in a lot of ways, but ultimately brings pure joy to Nina herself — as well as an entire crowd of people.
It’s good to watch, it’s better to think about.