Black Swan (7/10)
by Tony Medley
Run time 108 minutes.
Not for children.
I don’t know what director Darren Aronofsky has
against ballet, but he takes whatever it is out on the art in this
horror film starring Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers, the ballerina
chosen to play the Black Swan in Thomas Leroy’s (Vincent Cassel, who
gives another fine performance after sparkling in the 2008 Mesrine
films) production of Swan Lake.
Aronofsky takes a script with four separate credits
and pieces together a troubling story of a girl Thomas thinks needs to
break out from her sheltered existence. The result is a scene of lesbian
oral sex that originally got the film an NC-17 rating, which is meant to
symbolize Nina finally letting go, although I don’t know why a
heterosexual sex scene wouldn’t have accomplished the same purpose. The
Weinstein Company fought it and finally the MPAA relented and gave it an
R rating. There is no nudity in the film, but the lesbian oral sex scene
Nina has a smothering ballet mother, Erica (Barbara
Hershey), who is as devoted to Nina’s career as Nina is herself. Maybe
this is realistic, because I do know from personal experience how much
time mothers devote to their ballerina daughters training and careers,
but that’s about the only thing that’s realistic about this film.
The dancing is disappointing, to say the least.
When someone is spending the time and money to bring a ballet story to
the screen, one would think that there would be a lot of effort to
ensure the dancing is high quality. Someone dropped the ball here,
because the dancing scenes of the Corps de Ballet are sloppy. Whoever
was directing them wouldn’t make it even with the Rockettes, much less a
major ballet company.
Even so, the film is interesting as Nina fights her
demons, all the while trying to satisfy Thomas to achieve the
performance of which he tells her she is capable. But that doesn’t mean
it’s easy to watch. In addition to the sex scene, there are several
scenes of graphic violence.
I happened to sit by a ballerina who had worked in
The Turning Point (1977), a fine movie about ballet. She was
incensed at the treatment of ballet in general and the ballerinas in
particular, and felt that Thomas’s sexual advances on Nina were absurd.
Another friend found the film “laughable.”
The ending leads one to wonder what was real and
what was fantasy in what came before.
Even though I thought it a troubling, unrealistic
excursion into a director’s phantasmagoric brain, I still found it
absorbing, and I’m not an aficionado of horror films or ballet.