Film Review: Black Swan

I’ve spoken before about how I find it fascinating how your reactions to movies can change over time, over mood and over life experiences. That a film that you once thought poor or emotionally removed can suddenly create sensations and responses far beyond from any memory you may hold and Black Swan has become exactly that type of film.

I first saw it not long after Natalie Portman picked up her Academy Award for her performance as Nina/The Swan Queen. People were raving about it as a work of exquisite film making and emotional story telling while lauding Portman for her the technical brilliance. And I sat there and watched it and just felt detached. I remember feeling cold and uninspired by this dark and warped tale that seemed too extreme and polar in the story it told, the characters it used and world it conveyed. I knew it was good but I didn’t understand why you’d enjoy it.

Natalie Portman (Broken Mirror) - Black Swan

What drew me back to watch it again I am not sure, but this time around I looked at it through very different eyes. I have my own mental scaring and noir life experiences to connect with it. I’m watching the film through a new window and as a result, this time the film connected to me in a violently different way, and emotionally tore at me to demand such a wildly different response that I’ve virtually reassessed my entire feelings about the film.

A lot was made of Portman’s transformation for the role. The harrowing emancipation of her body to portray the demands of the world she enhabits and conforms to and for some reason, I found it triggering. I suffer with Anorexia and watching Portman, watching how she pushed her body, how she strived for ever more perfection, completely unsettled me. I didn’t like to see it because there was a part of me which understood her reasons, accepted her actions. Almost agreed with her, willed her on. I didn’t look at her with pity but rather with passion, almost enjoying her because I felt connected to her disordered control. And I hated that because there should be no part of me that thought what she was doing was acceptable.

My reaction, obviously, is very unique but it speaks volumes for the power of her performance that she was able to create such a reaction. Looking past her though onto the rest of the cast, Mila Kunis as Lily is good as Portman’s foil, the almost personification of the natural, normal part of Portman’s inner self she so desperately conceals and fights, while Vincent Cassel just left me empty. He’s plays the company director and is meant to be the trigger to Portman’s destruction but never quite convinces. It doesn’t help that he’s never quite given enough of a spotlight when around Portman – she really is the only focus – but I just wanted to feel his twisted drive slightly more. I wanted him to be the puppet master.

Natalie Portman & Barbara Hershey - Black Swan

My big disappointments lie with Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey though. Ryder because her character should be interesting but is used so fleetingly that you wonder slightly why she’s there. I know the answer, but I wanted more back story for her to add more depth to the tale; while Hershey just drove me mad. It goes back to the fact I’ve lived with mental illness and know the claustrophobia that comes from being smothered by those around you. How their seeming blindness to your actual needs in the name of self satisfaction can drive you further down. I truly, wanted someone to hurt her and to scream at the screen to let Portman’s character go.

Moving past the characters though, and onto the story, I became completely engrossed by it. Emotionally I was lost so strongly, and almost worryingly, to Portman that her actions and the story as a whole were able to really get inside me and throw me about. Time stood still as I absorbed everything, and while I’m not normally squeamish (the only thing I truly struggle with is the sight of people poking, prodding or cutting the eye – I can’t watch people put on/take off contact lenses in real life) but throughout Black Swan the only time I’d break my connection to the film, forced to look away, were the moments of unintentional self harm, the sight of Portman cutting her finger or picking off large bits of skin leaving me for some reason overly queasy and bordering nauseous, that I very nearly stopped watching, simply because I couldn’t take it.

Looking beyond the strong and unexpected emotional response to the film and onto it’s construction. I remember talking to a friend about how Black Swan shots elements on a Digital SLR camera as well as, traditional cinematic methods, and sadly there are times when this changing in photographic styles becomes noticeable. Some parts felt out of sync with others. Almost like a behind the scenes documentary had been spliced into a main stream story and I found it off putting.

Natalie Portman (Canon 7d) - Black Swan

Finally, as I said earlier, it’s been a while since I last saw the film, and while the basic composition of Black Swan is a modern telling of Swan Lake and the melancholic transformation of the lead character, simply taken to extreme levels, the story did actually keep me guessing. I’d have vague flashes of memories hinting at what I expected to happen, where the story would go, but often they were proved wrong. The picture there in my mind, but never truly clear.

I really don’t know quite what to make of Black Swan. Compared to my original memories I found an entirely different film, unlocking wounds and feelings that bordered on making it impossible to watch. The connection so deep that it left me virtually shaken by the experience. Yet, at the same time it’s story is just a little bit too dark and intense to really be enjoyable. I know I’ve had a very personal response based purely on my life with Anorexia but it’s actually driven me away from it from it slightly. It touched the raw inner core of my illness and I didn’t like it. But I can’t look past that and it’s ability to create that response. I will probably shy away from it in the future as a result, but there and then, it had complete power and control over me, I just wish the story was a little bit more uplifting.

9 out of 10 stars (9 / 10)


Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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