Saturday, January 15, 2011

Movie Appraisal: Black Swan (2010)

So, I went to my annual movie theatre trip tonight and saw Black Swan. It's actually great timing that I saw it when I did because I can compare the movie to Pandorum which I saw earlier today.

Black Swan is a film that has received critical acclaim. The critics absolutely love it. It has cinematography of an art film, but the genre of a psychological film, and some very good acting performances. What I have to ask is why. Why does this film get such good ratings and Pandorum doesn't? This film was well done, but certainly nowhere close to perfect. Darren Aronofsky is a good filmmaker, but he does seem to have issues with certain things. I can safely say that the man likes making his movies into art, and also that I really don't like the endings of the man's films.

The plot here doesn't really even matter. There's a production of Swan Lake by a ballet company and Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a quiet ballet dancer who really wants the role as the Swan Queen. That's about all you need to know about the plot. We're introduced to a few issues throughout, such as some possible emotional problems Nina might have, as well as the demanding pressures of her part and how she wants herself to be perfect.

The psychological aspects of this film come out as Nina changes from the person she has always been to somebody else. Certain themes pervade the film, such as sexuality and lust, a darker half of oneself, and going mad. The sex theme is probably the most interesting to explore. It seems that Nina's introduction to "exploring" herself releases something inside of her, maybe something that had long been hidden away. She becomes empowered as she finds her lusts, but also self-destructive. This is an almost purely psychological film, showing madness as something that can warp one's own reality. I find the idea fascinating, but the execution seems to be lacking.

The acting was very well done. The cinematography was superb. The dancing was beautiful. Hell, most of the scenes in this film look more beautiful than real life. My problem is that the actual film is all over the place. Hectic would be a good word to describe it. The film doesn't have the focus it should have. It focuses on the plot rather than Nina's psychology, which actually takes away from the message the movie was trying to get across. The psychological elements in this film are where the real interest lies, but they're often not really touched upon, or very vaguely shown. I feel like this kind of film needs to either embrace the psychological elements of the film or scrap them... and I feel this film took a very middle of the road approach, which didn't work out.

I look at how wonderful Pi was. It explored the human psyche and the insanity of the mind, and if this film were more like that this could have been great... but instead this film focused too much on an uninteresting plot and psychological details that either went nowhere or were done badly.

I do have my complaints about this film about what it should have done... as well as what it did wrong, but I did enjoy it, maybe not as much as Pi or even Pandorum, but it was really well done. The shots were beautiful. The actors looked like real people in a real story. I liked it... well, I liked it pretty decently until the ending. I don't know what it is about Aronofsky, but any movie he makes I hate the ending of. The last fifteen or twenty minutes of this film was kind of stupid. I loved the last shot and some shots in between, but I found the whole ending sequence fairly stupid and easily predictable. I'm not going to spoil anything. I'm simply going to say that I didn't like it and do not think it worked at all. At a basic level, with a movie with as much realism as this movie showed, the ending should have been better than what they had come up with.

I did like the different aspects of Nina shown in this film though, as well as the beautiful and creepy shots involving mirrors. I thought those were extremely well done. The whole dual nature really was wonderful to see and easily one of my favorite parts of this film. My favorite part of this movie was honestly some of the shots that felt derivative from other, better films... one in particular that I swear was stolen straight out of David Cronenberg's The Fly. I also liked the creepy little man on the subway. Man, he was awesome... and I also felt he was indicative of Nina's own sharp madness by that point in the movie, brought out by newly found lusts, a darker nature, and her own loss of innocence.

This film could have been so much better. It could have been better than Jacob's Ladder, and yet it fumbled in the end-game. The ending made me cringe when it should have made me cry.

I would rather see Pandorum again over this movie any time... and that's why I feel that the critic rating system fails. Yeah, this was a very well made movie, but at times it didn't quite hit my enjoyment center. It didn't speak to me like Jacob's Ladder did. After seeing this film I told one of my friends that I saw it with, "This movie would have been excellent if it had been more like Jacob's Ladder." and I'm sticking with that thought. if Jacob's Ladder is the pinnacle of psychological films then this film is a nice little peak far under it. It's not that it's bad. It's only that there are many other films, especially psychological films, that are better. Go watch Jacob's Ladder if you want a fantastic psychological film. Go watch this film if you want to see some top-notch cinematography. Again, I'd still watch Pandorum over this movie any time.

Critics are morons.


  1. M’yeah, I did not jive with this one, less so than you. As a psychological horror film about artistic and physical sacrifice, I never felt there was enough to Portman’s character that would make her descent into madness emotionally investing. Unless she was mentally ill, but if that’s the case then we would regard her madness as a separate affliction. It just didn’t seem like an honest portrayal of artistic sacrifice, just an excuse to hang some disturbing imagery on clothesline. From what I’ve heard the film should be taken as a visceral depiction of the sacrificial experience, just as Requiem for a Dream betrayed any realism in drug addiction. Though I know even less about being a heroin addict, so…

    I’ll give Winona Ryder credit for looking younger than she did 10 years ago.

  2. Well, I was also being kind of nicer than I probably should have been. This movie actually, no joke, gave me a migraine. I thought some of the visuals were good, but I really did feel it was all over the place, which made it really very mediocre for me.

    I know just about nothing concerning ballet or stuff of that nature, and maybe to a ballet dancer this film does resonate... or something... but to me it feels not only emotionless but nearly character-less. I could have cared less about the characters, which took a lot from this film... as well as the plot which I found completely uninteresting and poorly done.

    I did a double-take when I saw Winona Ryder because I didn't think she even did movies anymore.

    I think this movie failed as a psychological film as well as failing to have an intriguing story. I didn't hate it, but I found it so mediocre and forgettable that I'm basically apathetic about it now.