Sunday, January 16, 2011

BLACK SWAN: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Runtime: 108 min.
Verdict: A rather poorly made film. A slugfest.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller, Horror

        Black Swan contains a lot of material that demands the presence of Adam Sandler in Mr. Cassel’s role. And the presence of Anna Farris, in Ms. Portman’s role. This film is ridiculous over-the-top camp, and yet Mr. Aronofsky plays it as if it is the most serious and profound examination of the nature of an artist and her relationship and desperation for the art. I wonder how the film, in its present state, hasn’t one any of those Razzie awards, because the way I see it, it is just about in the same ballpark as Paul Verhoeven’s much better self-consciously campy Showgirls. Black Swan represents how a pretentious hack of a filmmaker like Mr. Aronofsky actually reduces the cinema to little more than a poem illustrated on to screen. He has no idea how to give a cinematic image a life of its own. He has no idea how to rise above simple stereotypes. He has no idea how to go about establishing a psychological horror film. I hope that all those people comparing this film to Polanski’s Repulsion or Lynch’s double feature of Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire are only joking.
        In an Aronofsky image there is only one and one meaning to it, and no ambiguity at all. Still he will hammer the meaning and poetry until every last one of us gets it. I mean, Ms Portman is wearing white. And everyone else, her mother, her competitor’s, her predecessor, her boss and everyone else is wearing black. It is maddening and suffocating where a filmmaker leaves no room for personal interpretation and instead weaves along such an authoritarian narrative filled with adolescent jabs at Freudian psychological mumbo-jumbo. There are mirrors everywhere. Nina (Ms. Portman) is traveling in the MTA. She is WEARING WHITE. It is dark outside. She is looking at herself in the GLASS. The REFLECTION IS DARK, OR BLACK. She sees Lily (Ms. Kunis) in the other compartment through the GLASS. Lily is WEARING BLACK. Lily fixed her hair with her right hand. NINA FIXES HERS WITH HER LEFT. I say enough of the goddamn mirror metaphor. It has been done to death buddy, and I tell you I see one more of those from Hollywood, I dare I doubledare, I am going to format my Windows XP and install Windows 7 and upgrade my RAM and even get the windshield fixed on my car. Probably get it even serviced. All of it in a fit of rage. I hate it. I might even spit somewhere.
        The filmmaking here is plain suffocating. Mr. Aronofsky goes medieval with his metaphors, so much so that he has to show us a scene where Thomas Leroy (Mr. Cassel), the ballet director, is the MONSTER WITH HORNS AND A BEAK AND IS ACTUALLY A REFLECTION OF THE EVIL DUDE INSIDE OF THE BLACK SWAN PLAY AND IS HAVING SEX WITH LILY WHO IS ACTUALLY THE BLACK SWAN. I get that the film is from Nina’s perspective. I get that she is a little loose on the screws. What I also get is that, IN HER EYES, Lily HAS ALDREADY BEEN ESTALISHED AS THE BLACK SWAN WHEN SHE GIVES HER THE BLACK BRASSIERE AND ALSO HAS A BIG BLACK SWAN TATTOO ON HER BACK DURING THE HUGELY INERT SEX SCENE. Oh yeah, what I also get is how fantastic the movie’s central theme is. I mean, Nina’s crazy because hey, a girl has to let out her sexuality. I get how Mr. Aronofsky inserts the now clichéd act of a woman masturbating, and then showcases his aesthetic – a double zoom startle shot of her mother sleeping on the couch. The filmmaking is seething with sensationalism, with little to no hint for compassion, or consideration of a person’s private moment. Meanwhile, the background score is eagerly waiting for even the slightest of reasons to rush in all horns blaring.
        Not that the filmmaking is of any high caliber. Case in point: the scene where Nina is standing right in front of the Eagle statue. A filmmaker like David Lynch would have seen the opportunity to insert the surreal. The scene starts with an establishing shot of Nina in front of the statue, and no one else is besides her. We see her back. (Frame grab below). Of course, you are also free to notice that EVERYONE ELSE IS IN BLACK WHILE SHE IS IN WHITE.


        This frame barely lasts for a second, and immediately cuts off to the rhetoric Aronofsky close-up. You see, geographically, we are between the eagle statue and Nina. (Frame below).

        And immediately we hear Thomas’ voice from behind us to the right. Even Nina looks to the left.


        All of these shots actually last for barely 3 seconds. Three cuts in probably under 3 seconds. Now, what I felt while I was watching this scene during her close-up was that the eagle statue suddenly disappeared from behind her. Why? Because of the shot-making. You see shot-making and editing are incremental, because we basically add the whole picture and create that world within our brain. So when a filmmaker establishes from a vantage point as in frame grab 1, and quickly cuts to frame grab 2 and also has a voice from behind, our brain within that confined time period ignores the shift in the vantage points. Instead had Mr. Aronofsky chosen the other side, with the eagle statue between us and Nina, I wouldn’t have been geographically confused. More importantly the heavy dosage of metaphor that the eagle statue provides could have been used as a surreal device with it appearing and disappearing rather than just letting it be. I cite this sequence to show the rather rushed nature of the filmmaking at hand. It felt as if Mr. Aronofsky was working out of a checklist.
        Oh yeah, I also get how Mr. Aronofsky wants to insert a plunger deep into our posterior, and reach all the way to the eyes, and suck any sort of tear, by killing off the character for no particular reason other than to create a tragedy. I remarked how immoral Kites was. I say, Black Swan is morally bankrupt. Of course it doesn’t help that the ending shot is just about a ridiculously inept piece of filmmaking. Nina drops, in slow-mo, the shot intending to rouse us or something, and the framing is so bad that we don’t notice her falling as much as the CGI below gliding for some reason and the background changing. No, it is not surreal. The thing is Mr. Aronofsky has no idea how to establish. There is no frame of reference. We’ve no idea who Nina really is, and we have no idea what Black Swan means to her. Mr. Aronofsky assumes that we already understand what the nature of an artist is, which is fine, except for a little fact that this assumption is nothing more than a pact between the audience and the filmmaker that this here is a cliché/stereotype we’re working on as a premise. I am not sure that an artist’s devotion can be stereotyped. It is a highly specific emotion. Of course, Black Swan doesn’t know that. What it also doesn’t know is how to engage the audience on a intellectual and emotional level with such a psychological predicament except for resorting to sensationalism – sex, masturbation, envy and metaphors. All emotions right off the Hollywood shelf. I wouldn’t have cared, but then I wonder how the sense of humor has been lost on the land. Facepalm dear reader, facepalm.

17 comments:

Bob said...

Paul Verhoeven! I feel like there's definitely a connection between Verhoeven and Aronofsky's work. I don't know, to me Aronofsky's movies all attempt the same aesthetics as Verhoeven's films. That kind of nasty, dirty, 'icky', intimacy that Verhoeven aims for seems to be in all of Afronosky's work, except lighter. There are certain parts of BlackSwan that are very Basic Instinct, to me. The club scene for one. And then there's the fact that Darren was slated to do Robocop for 2010. I believe he was the one that was interested.

man in the iron mask said...

Now that you cite Robocop as the evidence, man am I scratching beard.

But yes, the essential difference to me is the difference of tone and the treatment of the similar kind of content. Aronofsky probably doesn't know how to work around with camp. Verhoeven always did know.

As to how, I would want to cite this piece down at Slate.
http://www.slate.com/id/2279459/pagenum/all/#p2

Gaurang said...

Satish Naidu ko gussa kyun aata hai!! Lolz.

Amar said...

What can I say? I was happy to get fooled by the melodrama and the staged tragedy...

Bob said...

Plus, is it me or did you not review the Social Network? The elephant in the room!

man in the iron mask said...

Yes yes Yes Bob. I'm writing the review. It should be up shortly. lot of stuff vying my attention...

Just Another Film Buff said...

I guess this si the kind of movie where the reasons to love and reasons to hate are pretty much the same. Well written, especially the suffocation part.

Cheers!

man in the iron mask said...

Srikanth, funny that you mention that. I have just read the latest comment on Jim Emerson's post "Emotional Fascism....." and the commenter Dan N says the same thing about Black Swan.

I guess for any critic to write about this movie, even the haters like David Denby and Stephanie Zacharek, and lovers like Dargis, the points and observations are the same.

Just Another Film Buff said...

Whoa!

8-0

man in the iron mask said...

"8-0"? As in?

The number of comments? It is 9-0 now. And except for you, me and Gaurang, everyone is for Black Swan.

Just Another Film Buff said...

8-0 as in a smiley! (Eyes popped in surprise, mouth open)

man in the iron mask said...

Aaaah. I'm so atrocious with this stuff man. Till recently I was under the impression that FTW is just a cool inversion of WTF. Shee....

But yeah, it honestly is so strange. And Emerson mentions the same - the movie is getting mixed stuff. I mean, Reverse Shot had it on its worst list. I would too. And people liking it. I am fine, except for the simple fact that how can this be considered serious. Even by the director and his Mansell score?

Anonymous said...

I liked the movie for all the reasons that you hated it for....

man in the iron mask said...

And as Srikanth suggested above, it is strange. All I wonder is how an audience cannot laugh with this film, if not at it...

Ronak M Soni said...

I'm not sure just yet, but somehow I think that the alienation caused by the incessant close-ups and gotcha! filmmaking is adding up to something here.

The alienation caused is in itself slightly affecting, if you get what I mean.

man in the iron mask said...

Ronak, that is the very style Mr. Aronofsky employs in every one of his movies. From Pi to here.

That style standing alone, employed in some other shameless film, would have been so much at place. I like the audacity of that, in the way, it doesn't pretend, but simply assumes its right to gawk and peek and eat a popcorn while at it.

The problem is the drama and the heavy dramatic score he employs, that somehow take away the queasy effect, and in turn make it silly. Somehow, he doesn't know how to go about camp. I think he is under the impression he's making some serious statement about human existence. All he is doing is enjoy some melodrama.

Ronak M Soni said...

Probably true that this is the style employed in all his movies, but Requiem (only one I've watched) affected straightforwardly (that might be what you can call out-and-out camp, just a movie trying to hit you, hard, and succeeding).
I agree that the plot was fairly pretentious (and obvious, let's not forget obvious) and very out of line with the hit presentation; and I only like this inasmuch as I was completely unconcerned about the proceedings. My eyes were continually sliding off the foreground and looking at the paraphernalia (except when she sprouted feathers, that looked really nice).

I don't know what was going on, but I've never had that experience before. I might (just might) watch it again just to see if it happens again.