Black Swan

[Screenshot]Here we have a cautionary tale about the dangers of adults living with their parents and not getting off enough. Or, more properly, a screwed up film about screwed-up people. Mostly just one screwed-up person, really, but I can’t help but think that most of Nina’s troubles come from living with her mother in a tiny New York apartment. It should probably come as no surprise, just based on Aranofsky’s track record, that this is psychologically pretty twisted: pretty much always his protagonists are horribly conflicted and tortured and ultimately self-destructive. Plotwise, this is kind of more of the same only with more enablers: the protagonists of Pi and The Fountain mostly went out and got headfucked while cooped up alone.

Even though the plot is arguably the same old stuff, it certainly feels much more sweeping in scope than Pi, and there’s good use of the ensemble cast, particularly Mila Kunis, who strikes a good note of heisenmalice *. This is a busy film full of interesting foils for Natalie Portman to bounce off of, some more subtly than others: Cassel and Hershey play pretty two-dimensional and cliched roles, but Kunis is if not subtle at least interesting, and Winona Ryder presents a more nuanced (if only for being largely offstage) perspective on the ephemerality of stardom.

Aronofsky’s cinematic aesthetic has always had a certain horrific beauty to it (less so in Pi, which was kinda self-consciously lo-fi), and on this front Black Swan didn’t disappoint. There’s a cold beauty pretty much throughout in the camerawork and scene-setting, a sense of loneliness and isolation pervading the scenes through cinematography and perhaps some audio trickery.

All in all, this film was probably worth the hype. I certainly found it haunting and creepy and affecting. Not exactly good medicine for the brain, but it gets lots of points for doing what it does so effectively. If you like ballet and want to continue liking ballet, you might want to watch that series about the girl who sometimes turns into a duck instead. But if you want a dark story about crazy people in the arts, this one’s for you.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

* It seems acceptable these days to use “heisen-” where a few years ago one might have said “quantum” and a few decades ago one might have merely used “uncertain”. But mostly I just like the word “heisenmalice”. Return to text

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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