Review: Black Swan

Now, I’m not a film critic – I’ve never studied film – so I can only review this based on my experience of it as a viewer. In saying that, those of you who’ve stumbled across me before will know I’m a writer and a literature graduate, meaning some literary analyses may creep into this review.

Ever since my boyfriend first told me about the new Darren Aronofsky film, that guy who directed Requiem for a Dream, I have been looking forward to seeing it. Everything I heard about it made me want to watch it more. Seeing a trailer would engross, thrill and consume me with anticipation. Suffice to say, my expectations for this film were high. Very high.

My friend saw it before I did and said he was disappointed – it had been over-hyped and was basically not all that. I didn’t care. My expectations remained high.

I was not disappointed.

Now, I can’t say it exceeded my expectations because it didn’t. In fact, it was exactly what I had been expecting. Is that a bad thing? No. I expected it to be stunning, powerful, dark, shocking, absorbing and thrilling and it was. Even though it was exactly what I thought it would be – in terms of plot and theme exploration, etc, it still shocked me. I think there are scenes that would shock the most unflappable person. Not that I’m particularly difficult to shock – I do get very jumpy when watching films – but still, I did spend the last half hour staring, open mouthed at the screen with my hand clasping my boyfriends. Think of the first time you saw Requiem for a Dream – that last half hour or so – it’s a very similar feeling. (If you haven’t seen that – do – unless, of course, you don’t want to be shocked to your core) Only, that seems much more based in this gritty reality, whereas in Black Swan, the drama comes from a fantasy – imagined horrors.

The success of this is that those imagined horrors are often as real to you, the viewer, as they are to the protagonist, Nina. There is little patronising clarity of what is real and what is, essentially, in her head (in fact, I can only think of one instance where you see the reality while she continues to see the fantasy). There are parts that are open to interpretation. My personal view is that the film is very much from her point of view – think of it in terms of 3rd person narrative form – it’s third person but in her head and her head only. A clue to this is near the beginning – when the camera follows her closely from behind. (As previously mentioned, I can think of one instance where we see the reality and she sees the fantasy – interestingly, this is done through her shadow, which seems to me to represent the point of view of the audience of her performance.)  This affects everything – if she doesn’t know what’s real, you won’t; if she sees herself and other characters as ‘types’ or ‘cliches’ that is how you will see them – or how they are portrayed to you. After all, isn’t this how we experience the world? We make snap judgements based on appearance – unless you bother to get to know a person well enough – you will often view a person as a stereotype.

One criticism my friend gave was that the characters were all cliches – the ‘sweet girl’ the ‘lecherous but brilliant ballet tutor’ the ‘psychotic, jealous ex’ and the ‘psychotic, over-protective mother’. This is true but the film only works because it is so extreme – the violence is extreme, the sex scenes are extreme, the jealousy and protectiveness are extreme – the characters are extremes of a certain trait. Yet, through these flat, 2D people, you see and experience raw, powerful, human emotion. Besides, there is an exception, the character Lily is much more fleshed out – Nina can’t quite make her out and so neither can we. (I have to point out here, Mila Kunis’ acting is perfect – she creates exactly the right effect in this – Natalie Portman does a good job too but she has odd off moments – moments that aren’t 100% believable). Nina herself is a cliche – good girl gone bad – which is a little too ‘done’ in the clubbing scene (although the shooting of the girls dancing, with the effect that you cannot tell which is which, works well) but there is such depth to the exploration of this cliche – of this theme – that it still works.

Black Swan is a thrill-ride. It is not about character development. It is not about relationships. It is about drama. It will not leave you feeling warm and fuzzy but nor will it leave you feeling confused or contemplative. It left me feeling exhilarated. I enjoyed the ride and I was completely absorbed by it. Not everyone would be. But you won’t know until you try it. So, unless you’re pretty squeamish, go see it. Go on…live a little.


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