How to Prepare Black Swan
Start with 6 cups of The Wrestler Stock, using Natalie Portman and ballet as your base in lieu of Mickey Rourke and entertainment wrestling.
Two cans of diced Robert Altman’s The Company
Chop up one bunch of Notes on a Scandal
1 clove of Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
Add 2 tsps each of Showgirls, Fight Club, The Machinist, and Carrie
A pinch of Requiem for a Dream
Garnish with The Page Turner, serve in Oscar bait bread bowl.
For a more detailed review, click below and I promise I won’t give it all away.
I like Darren Aronofsky. Yes, not all films were winners, but I remember almost everything about The Fountain, which is more than I can say for many less terrible films. I also really like Aronofsky’s cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, whose work in Requiem for a Dream is why I thought I would want to see it again, though the content is too much to bear a second time. Black Swan is not for those with a weak stomach either.
Aronofsky’s last movie, The Wrestler, made us intimate with the body of Rourke’s wrestler and the lengths he pushes himself to sustain his career. Black Swan is no different, and for the first hour I thought it was going to be a redux, The Ballerina. I was totally fine with that. The camera hangs back just over Portman’s shoulder as she walks through the streets, lingers on her ankles and feet as she rehearses over and over again, we are learning the tics and habits of her body and then suddenly the stakes get higher. The company director gets crasser, the mother gets more controlling, and then the hallucinations begin.
Black Swan features a good old-fashioned unreliable narrator, and perhaps this is why I enjoyed this movie so much. Her perception of reality is constantly shifting out from under her and us simultaneously, but we both know it, there are no silly “gotcha” tricks about it. The scene where her psychological breaking point is stretched thinnest is mesmerizing and terrifying in the familiarity of its portrayal of dark hallucinations. Portman plays Nina Hayes with the same raw authenticity we saw in Rourke, which in this case means sometimes she is a terrible person, in the next breath she is empathetic, you see the results of her toxic environment, and you know it’s a tragedy, the music is telling you so. Clint Mansell’s score is a reinterpretation of Tchaikovsky’s music and in other movies so much scoring would feel too heavy, but Black Swan wears it well.
Look, it’s not a perfect movie — I could have done with a little less of the incessant “she’s so frigid” talk and Vincent Cassel’s version of ballet instruction is a bit like Lisa Simpson’s tappa-tappa-tappa teacher. And seriously, there will be blood if you see this movie, the sort that comes spurting from ripped hangnails and oozing from broken toes. But Barbara Hershey takes her Rachel Getting Married character and emulates Piper Laurie’s mothering of Sissy Spacek, then Winona Ryder pops up giving the entire cast of Girl, Interrupted a run for their money with her final hospital scene. I was even pleasantly surprised that the girl from That 70s Show did alright as the rival dancer.
If you like most of the ingredients in the recipe above, I highly recommend a theatre showing of Black Swan this weekend. It’s cheaper than a night at the ballet but has all the music, melodrama, and tragedy.