Cleolinda Jones (cleolinda) wrote,
Cleolinda Jones
cleolinda

So I saw Black Swan

Yeah, let's just go ahead and have full-on spoilers here and in the comments.

It took me so long to get out and see this one that word of mouth led me to expect it to be a lot gorier and a lot freakier. I mean, not that I particularly enjoyed watching Natalie Portman rip off her own cuticle, but I was also like, "Hey! She's not peeling off entire swathes of flesh! I CONSIDER THIS A WIN." And while the black swan semi-transformation at the end was interesting, we'd already seen so many hints of it in the trailers that I was expecting some full-on, bone-breaking Cronenbergery. Although, I guess, technically, when Nina's legs suddenly bent backwards a few scenes before that, we were getting closer to visceral body horror, but--that bit just seemed so cartoonish that I was like, "Okay, come on now."

My point is, the movie is still pretty tense all the way through (and it's kind of amazing how this is achieved through multiple scenes of nail-clipping), but I was probably more prepared than a lot of people going in. Well, wait, no--there was Winona Ryder stabbing herself in the face with a nail file. Kinda unprepared for that. Honestly, the most horrific scene in the entire movie for me was when Nina is, ah, doing Thomas's "homework." (Okay, if you haven't seen the movie, that euphemism could mean anything. The ballet director advises her to go home and masturbate in order to get in touch with her seductive Black Swan side.) So, hey, that's cool. So she's really getting into it and here's Natalie Portman is in her frilly little-girl bedroom with her stuffed animals and her ballerina music box and the camera's kind of getting into it and then she looks over and UNEXPECTED MOM ASLEEP IN THE CORNER. OH MY GOD.

Well, at least her mother was asleep. Man, that whole relationship was messed. up.

WHAT I AM GETTING AROUND TO is: the more I think about it, the more it seems that the entire movie is so tightly wound from start to finish because, yes, Aronofsky is a great visual stylist and he's the one who's wound it up, but also because Natalie Portman does such a good job of playing a gigantic bundle of nerves. This is her story, her perspective, and we experience it through her; we feel nervous because she does. I came out of the movie going, well, it's pretty amazing that she danced as much as she did, and madness is always catnip for an actor, but was it really that great of a performance? And I realized that maybe it is, because I didn't just see it, I felt it. And I don't know that a lesser actress would have managed that--it could have been a tense little thriller, but I don't know that I would have sat there feeling half-sick the whole time waiting for the other toe shoe to drop. Or maybe I just personally identify with Nina--I never did ballet, and I'm the last person who would ever be a dancer, but Nina early on reminds me so much of myself as a teenager--that quivering, edge-of-tears perfectionism; the unworldly shyness that made it so hard to talk to other people. And, God bless her, that perfectionism is her tragic flaw--as the Vincent Cassel character points out, it's the very thing that makes her so suited for the delicate White Swan, but makes the seductive, uninhibited Black Swan such a struggle. The only way to be the perfect Black Swan is to let perfectionism go--but in doing so, Nina's still trying to be perfect. It's like this awful Zen koan.

Not to make this about me, but since you're probably wondering--no, I don't sound like I'm anything like Nina now, because I'm not. I went to college and I grew up and bottomed out and failed at a few things. Sometimes I think I needed to do that, that it was good to massively fuck up a few times, because you eventually dust yourself off and realize--maybe only years later--that the world did not, in fact, end because of it. Being perfect is not a tightrope; when you fall off, you don't die. In fact, Nina's last words are, "I was perfect." Maybe trying to be perfect is a tightrope where the only danger of dying is staying on it.

Well, that was a nice little deep thought, and I haven't even gotten to the part I think most people wanted to talk about, which is: how much of it really happened? I half expected Lily to just be completely imaginary, so I was surprised early on when Thomas introduces her to the company. I still went forward with the suspicion that anything that happened with Lily might or might not be real unless someone else reacted to it or mentioned it later--Thomas mentions that Lily talked to Nina, etc. Like the scene in the apartment building where Nina's talking to Lily in the hall, and her mother keeps telling her to come back in--I noticed that her mother said "no one" was at the door initially, and that she never addressed Lily herself, even after Nina went into the hall. So I thought, that could be a setup for "Nina is talking to herself and her mother is trying to get her to come back in and stop being weird." But then it seems like Lily and Nina really did go out that night; it's just that Lily didn't really come home with her. Unless you also want to believe that the conversation where Lily said "I didn't go home with you" wasn't real, either. Basically, I ended up tending to believe that everything that was not blatantly impossible (Lily having sex with Scary Swan Vincent Cassel; Nina's toes growing together; Beth or Nina stabbing Beth, since no one ever mentioned it later) or outright contradicted ("I didn't go home with you"; Lily coming to congratulate Nina and obviously not lying in a pool of blood in Nina's dressing room) actually happened, with Nina's hallucinations on top. I guess there's a question of whether elements of some things happened; I tend to think that Nina completely hallucinated Lily and Thomas having sex in a jealous fit of paranoia, although she could have come across it really happening and just imagined the scary parts. And that she might or might not have visited Beth that second time, and if she did, that she hallucinated the stabbing. Nina obviously didn't stab Lily, but a mirror was broken, and she did stab someone (herself). I don't know--I came out of the movie fairly sure that I knew, in retrospect, which parts were real and which parts were hallucinations, but who knows.

Anyway. I've had a Woodchuck and I'm rambling. Discuss.


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