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So I saw Black Swan
msauvage purple
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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I liked that most of it was so up in the air about what was hallucinated and what wasn't, but the stabbing part at the end threw me a bit on the timing. She stabs what she thinks is Lily, throws Lily in the closet, and then goes and performs part of the dance. Then comes back, Lily comes to the door and Nina realizes it was herself that she stabbed, because she is bleeding. Why wasn't she bleeding during the dance?

I got the impression that she was stabbed, but that no one noticed it because she was in the black swan costume (no hole, no visible blood on the feathers). When she's back in the white costume and notices that she'd stabbed herself, she reaches into the wound and pulls out a chunk of glass. I'm guessing the glass still being in the wound was stopping it from bleeding so copiously, like how they tell you not to take a knife or something out of a deep stab wound until the person is getting medical treatment.

I saw the film on Friday night with a boy I've been dating. He suggested we see it because I'd said I was interested, but it was obvious from what he was saying before the previews that he pretty much thought he was in for a chick-flick about ballet with "a really hot lesbian scene".

When the movie finished, he insisted we sit through the credits so he could gather himself to stand up and leave. His mind was totally blown. It was hilarious.


The only other people in our theater were an older woman by herself and an older couple. I have no idea what they thought they were in for.

I thought that Portman was excellent as well. Her desperation was exhausting.

I had the same feeling as you did after I saw the movie - my whole body was completely tense, and it took me a minute or so to relax enough that I could actually stand up, and the next day, my whole body hurt.

I was never really a Natalie Portman fan before this. She's always seemed sort of intellectually and emotionally removed, but she completely tapped into something so visceral with this role that I really hope it doesn't turn out to be a fluke.

Also, you might enjoy this: Kartina Richardson wrote a really interesting piece about the function of bathrooms in this movie: http://tv.gawker.com/#!5728031/black-swan-and-bathrooms

The only reason I've persistently liked Natalie Portman so long was this:


Edited at 2011-02-02 04:07 am (UTC)

Glad I wasn't the only one to find the swan legs things silly. Then again I was trying to stifle giggles during the scuffle between Lilly and Nina when Nina grows a swan neck.

Though in actuality I liked it when the body horror was subtle - like her toes growing together or pulling feathers out of the rash. That was unsettling and not really over the top.

For me the worst bit was the nail clipping. I have an utter horror of my nails getting pulled out, but at least I knew it was coming so I could avert my eyes.

Then Winona Ryder stabbing herself in the face caught me completely off-guard. AUGH.

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I had this whole response typed up to this and my internet cut out, deleting it. Sigh.
The point of my half-paragraph-long comment was that, though I haven't seen the movie, I am also fascinated by the dichotomy of disapproval for female masturbatory representation either on film or in real life.

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I actually just home from seeing it to. I... sort of hated it a lot. I thought Natalie Portman did a lovely job but otherwise... it seemed like a very male perspective on what coming to terms with female sexuality is. Didn't like it at all.

Well, I guess anything would seem restrained to me after the Sucker Punch trailer in front of it. Damn, you wanna talk about a man's idea of what women fantasize about...

But yeah--I don't know which parts you mean specifically, but I found it interesting that the Vincent Cassel character would have been intended as completely gross in most movies, but was kind of played here as a positive mentor. Like getting groped was supposed to be good for her. But there were times when Thomas pulled back just enough that it felt more like he was trying to provoke her than prey on her. But in terms of what you're saying, yeah, it's a story about how an older man tells a young girl what's best for her sexuality, and the big sexual moment in the movie is a Hot Lesbian Scene. On the other hand, he tells her to touch herself, rather than find a man to do it for her (or sleep with him), and the big sexual moment is with a character who functions as her double/other self. I could argue it either way.

I don't think (or can't figure out how) Nina stabbed herself. How do you hide a stab wound while dancing an entire act in a thin white costume in your first big role...with nobody noticing anything? And I think someone in the audience or one of the techs would've noticed and stopped the show, even if she was hallucinating everyone acting normally.

What I thought happened was that she had a breakdown at the end of the ballet--possibly physical (certainly mental)-- and would no longer be able to dance at all, hence her "dying".

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she and the prince are both supposed to jump to their deaths.

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re: Nina and her mom

i only thought about this much later (possibly even weeks? when did i see this? i don't remember. aaanyway...) but i wonder if one of the reasons her mother was so controlling is that Nina had some sort of psychotic break or something before. like she freaks out so bad about the scratching like maybe that is how it started before?

It DID feel like Nina may have had a break in the past. And that would make sense since Nina didn't seem to start this film as an anchor of sanity.

The fact the mother talks about "you've been scratching AGAIN" and the question "do we still have some of that expensive concealer" did imply that this wasn't a new thing at all.

On Lily being imaginary: my bff mcwonthelottery remarked that she thought from the trailers that the movie was going to be Ballerina Fight Club*, which I think would've been much more interesting. Not that Black Swan wasn't well-executed, I just found it... I don't know, kind of predictable as far as Perfectionist Artist Has Breakdown movies go, or something.

*Have you heard my new band, Ballerina Fight Club?

loool I said something like that after seeing the trailer. It's like Showgirls and Fight Club had a baby and gave it up for adoption to Night Watch, with Jim Henson's Storyteller as the babysitter.

I am sad that this is not how the movie actually turned out.

I've seen Black Swan four times now and I really love it as a psychological thriller from a ballerina's perspective. The biggest criticism seems to be the dancing wasn't very good or done by Portman as much as audiences were led to believe. The character worked for me so it didn't bother me that the dancing wasn't as en pointe or always Portman. When they needed acting, they had Natalie. For complex dancing, they had Sarah Lane.

One of my favorite thing about the movie is that from the very beginning Nina is experiencing hallucinations - there's no sudden switch or drop into madness. It keeps that tension high throughout the film.

My absolute favorite thing is the use of color in the film and what the colors symbolize. By my count there are seven predominant colors:

1 - White: Purity, putting others ahead of the self, technical perfection. The white swan role and costume. Often seen in contrast to black or gray.
2 - Black: Sensuousness, self-interest, perfect abandon. The black swan role, Beth, and Lily. Often seen in contrast to white or gray.
3 - Gray or silver: A gray area, acting neither selfish nor selfish or a mixture of both, confusion. Thomas often wears gray.
4 - Pink: Innocence, naivete, dependence. Nina's scarf, bedroom, and towel to cover the blood.
5 - Green: Mother's influence, poison, sickness. The wallpaper in the kitchen and objects throughout the apartment have green in them. It's rarer that green appears outside the apartment
6 - Red: Guilt or worry. When Nina scratches her shoulder, pulls on her cuticle, stabs her cheek or pulls out the shard. Her guilt seems to be centered on replacing Beth or her fear of being replaced by Lily. She's worried about the performance being a success. The word WHORE is written in red lipstick.
7 - Blue: Sorrow or disappointment. The only time I've noticed it is the lighting during the actual performance after she's been dropped by the Prince.

Something I didn't notice until my last viewing was the double isn't "conquered" or possessed until the mirror in the dressing room was broken. Beth breaks the mirror in her first appearance in the film - maybe Beth's breaking with the white part of herself.

I swear there's a deleted scene where we see Nina stealing more than just the lipstick from Beth's dressing room - she also takes a pair of diamond earrings, the nail file, a pack of cigarettes, matches, and a bottle of Chanel No. 5. She lines these up at her principle's mirror and eventually returns them to Beth. Nina wanted to be Beth, to have both her success and transcendence. But she ended up destroying herself similar to Beth.

As for the end of the film, I sometimes believe Nina imagined stabbing herself because she was mentally so far gone (mainly based on Thomas's reaction; I can't imagine a person looking at someone who was stabbed and asking why they did it to themselves) though I do believe she could have danced the Black Swan with the mirror shard (adrenaline can constrict blood vessels to cease blood flow around a wound and Nina was definitely wound up enough). I don't believe the three-inch piece of glass in intestine could have killed her so quickly or caused so much blood loss - it at least would have smelled to alert somebody. But I see the merit in both endings that I even like a third - that she never woke up from her dream at the beginning.

Heh, as a former ballerina, I did come out of it nitpicking the dancing (specifically the level of noise; great pointe dancers, ideally, will make almost no noise at all), but then I was just like, "Eh, it's Hollywood does ballet, what did you really expect?" Mostly I was impressed, as far as the dancing goes, with how it was filmed; it's not easy to film ballet in a dynamic way from the stage, in the midst of all that choreography, in such a way that you feel sucked into the dancing itself, I think. I really did appreciate that, and I know it's not easy.

I am so torn on this movie, possibly because I went in with ~~~expectations after how much I loved The Fountain and was really gunning for Aronofsky to do a straight up horror movie. I thought it was beautifully shot, the costumes were gorgeous, and Natalie Portman gave a great performance.

But in the end, I'm stuck with this bad taste in my mouth because on the one hand I understand the narrative choices used in the movie -- Nina's fucked up home life and how timid she is to make the dramatic turn toward the Black Swan, Thomas' "homework" assignment etc -- but on the other, I'm questioning why they were there? It doesn't feel like there's a satisfying emotional payoff. I kept expecting Nina to fall off the cliff and break her leg, never to dance again. Or we'd get to American Psycho territory where she'd killed Winona Ryder and Lily and nobody caught her. Or possibly she would turn into a swan or some other supernatural element like she'd been claimed by faeries and dragged through the mirror into another mad world. Or...something! Anything! I feel like the ending pulled back into more safe territory ("it was all in her head!") than cranking it to eleven. And someone on my f-list brought this up and I agree: the movie is incredibly dated. Not so much in style/fashion, but in the attitudes. I find it very hard to suspend belief.

After The Fountain this feels like such a disappointment, and I'm annoyed that this turned into more of a psychological thriller than a creepy ballerina horror movie. I'm glad I saw it, but ennh I think it could have been better.

I was really hoping there'd be much more of a supernatural element. I was left fairly underwhelmed as well.

I have already pontificated about this movie far, FAR too much at my own journal because I am a crazy stan for it, so I will try and be brief:

Maybe trying to be perfect is a tightrope where the only danger of dying is staying on it.
Basically, yeah. My theory is that the whole thing is really about balance and how you have to accept and indulge both the 'white' and 'black' sides of yourself or else you'll just be all out of whack and one will eventually take over, as happens with her, so the tightrope thing works quite nicely with that. ;)

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.
I totally thought of that too, but Lily does acknowledge the mom and go "Jesus!" when she keeps telling her to come back in. When they come back after partying, though, the mother doesn't acknowledge Lily at all, and more than that, Lily doesn't actually say anything. The last thing she says is "where are you going?" when Nina leaves the club, and then they're in the cab and in the apartment and all that time all she says is "shhh" and "sweet girl," so I had a feeling she wasn't really there in those scenes. I'm glad she wasn't just imaginary all along, though; that would've been way too easy. One of the brilliant parts is how you can see Lily/the mom/Thomas from Nina's point of view, where they're all sort of shady and two-faced and out to get her, or you can take a step back and realize they're all completely normal, albeit troubled in their own ways. Lily's never anything but sweet and encouraging to Nina, but she sees it differently because she's paranoid and nuts, and you're not sure what to believe until it's over.

...OK, that wasn't short; sorry, I just flove this movie. There's quite a lot to think about!

...yeah. All of this.

I've seen it twice, and I'm still not entirely sure whether I like it or not. Certainly it's really well made, and Portman did a wonderful job portraying Nina's fearful perfectionism. I think what kind of bothers me about it is that it doesn't seem quite enough somehow. I was glad to see that the film didn't go out of its way to give the audience answers - we don't need to know exactly what's going on with Nina, the weird relationship with her mother is probably best left to our imagination - but ending with her death felt cheap somehow. Personally I think it would have been more interesting, more of a challenge, if Nina had really stabbed Lily and her instability had to be addressed.

Granted, that's probably just me wanting a neater resolution. Maybe it was a good decision to have Nina's darker moments only affect her and her mother - by keeping the destructive consequences fairly contained, we have a harder time knowing the true extent of her delusions. For the most part, though, I agree with you that figuring out what was hallucination and what was reality was a pretty straightforward process.

Something still bugged me about it, though. It's just - okay: if Nina had scratched earlier in life like her mom said, indicating that she has had similar destructive tendencies in the past, how long ago was it, and did she also hallucinate then? And in any case, what brought the scratching on last time? I just assumed it was the pressure of the Swan Queen role and sexual issues that triggered the delusions during the movie. Maybe I would have felt more satisfied with the whole thing if there had been more allusions to Nina's past behavior and the circumstances surrounding it.

I don't even know what I'm saying anymore. TL;DR: while I appreciate that the movie wasn't dumbed down, I also would have liked a little more background regarding Nina's mental illness, since that would have made it feel more cohesive. Or something. There.

About her death, while it did seem cheap and a bit anticlimactic after making you wonder how she was going to deal with the aftermath of having murdered someone, once I thought about it, it did seem like a logical conclusion. You've basically been watching this person's mental breakdown in real time. She's miserable and paranoid and she wants so so much to be the absolute best at what she does, and now that she's actually achieving it, she figures this is as good as it's going to get. Maybe it's on a subconscious level and that's why she thinks she's stabbing Lily rather than herself. But it's like, once this goal of being perfect has been reached, life has nothing more to offer her.

But I do agree it would've been nice to know more about Nina's past and mental health prior to the events of the movie.

Holy shit TL;DR.