We were excited to find out what the buzz about Black Swan, the ballet centric psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky, was all about. It's a thing of terrifying beauty, and better than you'd probably expect it to be.
Brian Moylan: The thing I was most struck by about 20 minutes or so into the film was how different it was than the film that was being sold in news stories and the trailers. The marketing people at Fox Searchlight would lead you to believe that it's about Natalie Portman getting the lead role in a new version of Swan Lake and Mila Kunis trying to drive her crazy to get the role. While there is an element of All About Eve to the proceedings—especially since Portman's Nina is taking the place of an aging diva played by '90s queen Winona Ryder—but it's much more about Nina buckling under her own psychological stress and becoming increasingly unraveled. While the girl-versus-girl (and the steamy Kunis/Portman girl-on-girl) might be the thing to sell tickets, what Aronofsky has created is something that is much more interesting and terrifying. It is everyone's greatest fear, a complete psychological break with reality.
Richard, after we saw the movie you described it as a "horror movie." Care to extrapolate?
Richard Lawson: It's a horror movie in the same way Rosemary's Baby is a horror movie — this elegant, almost baroque kind of madness that would be hysterically funny if only it wasn't so unsettling. Darren Aronofsky treads that very thin line, between scary and silly, beautifully with Black Swan, one of the most refreshingly daring and weird "mainstream" movies I've seen in a long time. I love that Aronofsky — and Natalie Portman, in an insane kamikaze performance — wasn't scared to let it all hang out, that he seemingly didn't feel forced into any one movie category. When was the last time a horror movie had so much delicate cinematic artistry? The camera's gorgeous tight closeups, the bone-crunching, skin-stretching sound effects — it was all so carefully handmade and detail oriented, and yet the film as a whole is this wild, messy fantasia of tawdry lust dreams and stage mommas from hell and swan monsters.
I hate when people call actors or other movie makers "brave," because they're just making movies not fighting in wars, but this movie really does feel brave, or at least admirably ballsy. I guess they somehow knew it was going to, just by the skin of its teeth, work in the end. Or they figured it was worth the risk anyway. What I'm saying is that Black Swan feels simultaneously like a great movie that was made 35 years ago (all that '70s darkness and grit) and like the first specimen of a new breed, an Oscar-worthy genre B-movie. It's both a terrific and a terrible movie. And Natalie Portman deserves every award coming to her.
Brian Moylan: I totally agree with you about Portman. Before this I always thought she was this pretty girl who liked vegan shoes, but couldn't really act. This definitely changed my mind, as she goes from the timid, girlish thing at the beginning of the movie to a kind of monster who is torn between her inner desires and what other people tell her she should want. She has pressure from the inside and out as aches to become perfect, but also has to deal with the sinister ballet company head and her Dina Lohan with tutus mother—brilliantly played by Barbara Hershey. You could go on and on about the psychosexual dynamics at play for ages, but this is essentially like a female version of Equus.
While the whole thing was claustrophobic—Nina's Upper West Side apartment appeared to have no windows and the subterranean halls of the ballet company seemed more like a gulag than an artistic space—it was also at times sublime in the most classic definition of the word. The cinematography and dancing and daring and—especially in one transformative scene at the end—you're struck by the beauty of the film while simultaneously seized with the dread of death. I didn't think it was as funny as some people in the audience, but then again, i was too busy trying to lose my own shit and digging for that last Klonopin I knew was somewhere in the bottom of my bag.
Richard Lawson: Yeah, it was a neat trick of Aronofsky's, to make every bit of the backstage world ugly to the point of terror, but to still have the actual dancing be so vital and lovely, despite its dark origins. I mean, he got lucky with his source material, in that near about anything is going to look fierce and potent when set to Tchaikovsky's booming, iconic music. I love that he wasn't scared of how cliched that music has become. He ran right at the storm with that one, and in doing so completely rebirthed the score for me. It was like I was hearing the blare of that brass for the first time. Oddly, I kinda want to go to the ballet now. And if a movie (that isn't Center Stage) can make me want to see ballet, well that's a pretty powerful movie.
Brian Moylan: I'm a big ballet fan and I think the movie really transcends the world of ballet. Yes, it benefits well from the story of Swan Lake where a woman is turned into a swan and her true love—the one man who can break the spell—is stolen from her by her evil twin sister, but really this becomes about so much more than point shoes and pas de deux. It's about the terror that could befall any of us in a search for perfect, and what happens when the world isn't as real as it should be.
[Note: Yes, we realize ads for the movie have been fluttering across this site for awhile, but our love of this movie has nothing to do with corporate dollars.]