See, this is why I don’t strive to be perfect at anything.
When I first saw Black Swan (2010), it was around the time it was initially released. I remember this movie being a MOMENT in early 2010s pop culture. Every frame of it was analyzed for hidden meanings, the themes were widely debated, and it was declared an overall complete and total mindfuck. In 2010, I was 14. My knowledge of, taste in, and repertoire of movies was nowhere near what it is today. So back then, this movie threw my uncultured little brain for loop after loop. In fact, it left me so bewildered, that I’ve really only seen it one other time since then. Now that I’ve revisited it more than a decade later, I have to say that the mystique is gone. Black Swan may not be as psychologically confusing as I once found it, but rest assured that I still don’t understand ballet at all.
Black Swan follows Nina Sayers, a strict and committed ballerina whose ballet company is putting on a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Perfect for the role of the innocent White Swan, Nina is cast in the lead. But when Lily, a new rival who best embodies the qualities of the seductive Black Swan arrives, Nina begins to face an overwhelming pressure to be play the part perfectly. Soon Nina begins to lose her grip on reality and slowly descends into madness.
So, remember my first time watching Black Swan? Well, fun fact, I was actually watching it with my mom and there were certain scenes where she literally made me leave the room. Let’s just say that multiple scenes of Natalie Portman masturbating isn’t exactly ideal for family movie night. Despite a misguided feeling that the movie was somehow off limits, I eventually watched Black Swan a second time and admittedly I found myself asking, “why? I don’t even like ballet.” I think why I was actually so drawn to this movie, why I thought it could be a contender to land on my list of all-time favourites, was because it’s a dark retelling of a classic fable. Which is a genre of film I eat up. As a lover of inventive, or twisted adaptations of classic stories, I appreciate what director Darren Aronofsky is going for with Black Swan, but upon rewatching, this movie is not as gripping as I remember. I remember it having much more of an impact. Perhaps Black Swan is one of those one and done movies. You watch it once, go, “wow, awesome!” and then you never watch to again.
Black Swan is marketed as a psychological horror which I think is a mistake. When I think of a psychological horror, I think of a movie that’s constantly keeping you guessing, keeps you on the edge of your seat, and ultimately leaves you feeling frightened and unsettled. Sure, there are a few visual thrills that will have you questioning reality, but for the most part Black Swan comes up short when it comes to scares. Given the subject material I can’t really blame it, but every time something remotely spooky or weird briefly happens, the movie cuts away to a long, uninterrupted scene of Nina dancing. The dancing is fine and lovely but it definitely distracts form the thrills and chills that the movie promises. It’s just never as interesting.
Honestly, I don’t think there is enough of a psychological element to Black Swan to keep your full attention. There are often long stretches of time where nothing terribly exciting or interesting is happening, and often without any sound, that you would be forgiven if you ended up turning away from the screen multiple times. Even the few psychological twists you experience aren’t that compelling once you realize that the plot of the movie is literally just the ballet playing out. You know what I really wish? I wish that the movie fully embraced the darkness and creepiness and Nina like went on a killing spree and then danced her final dance among the corpses of her company. GO THERE, MOVIE. Fuck, could you imagine if Guillermo del Toro or Tim Burton had directed this movie? THAT’S the Black Swan I want!
Which isn’t to say that Aronofsky is a bad director. Black Swan is a wonderfully shot and gorgeously choreographed movie that perfectly captures how stunning ballet is. It also captures the intensity and strength it takes to be a ballerina. You guys, ballet is no joke. These are professional athletes who put their bodies through the ringer for their art. Its incredible to watch. If you’re at all interested in ballet, I would definitely recommend watching Black Swan. Like a real ballet, the movie is hauntingly beautiful.
Now, I’m not sure how much dancing Natalie Portman is a actually doing in this movie (a topic heavily debated since the movie’s release) but regardless, her performance in this movie is amazing. “Performance” is a truly appropriate word because Portman is giving it her all. She is exceptional in the role as Nina. She’s so earnest in wanting to become a flawless dancer, and watching her strive for perfection while descending into madness is bewitching. Portman captures the layered duality of the character through subtly creepy stares and wicked smiles, while simultaneously dressed up like a perfect pink princess. I love that juxtaposition of character. Although, Portman whispers throughout the whole movie so just make sure you have the volume turned way up.
Black Swan features everything that you would expect it to: Spectacular dancing, grim storytelling, and well-acted performances. It also features a handful of things that you wouldn’t expect. Things like, a ballet director who absolutely needs to be arrested for sexual harassment, laughable special effects that have not aged well at all, and a mediocre Sebastian Stan cameo pre-Marvel fame. Oh, and also an alarming number of scenes about nail clipping. Seriously, If anything involving nails, blood, or hangnails makes you squeamish, this may not be the movie for you.
Have you seen Black Swan?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!