Sunday, 6 February 2011

White Swan Down

By Beatrice Jeschek

                                                                                                                         © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox
With psychological plainness, “Black Swan” (2010) director Aronofsky lifts the curtains to a spinning ballet nightmare, focusing on the inner fight between a delicate White Swan and its deathly black alter ego. The performance of Natalie Portman, however, is overcoming narrative conventions between good and evil.

Inner demons are hard to fight as they rarely show their true faces. Black feathers and demonic red eyes emblematize what appears to be a fragile ballet perfectionist, Nina (Natalie Portman).

After winning the lead role in “Swan Lake” for her delicateness and sweet performance of the White Swan (Princess Odette), Nina pushes herself to get in touch with her inner Black Swan (Odile, daughter of an evil magician). As prima ballerina, she will have to dance both.

And immediately her dark side appears along with a new dancer.

Wild Lily (Mila Kunis) eats greasy burgers, smokes, drinks and plays with her sexuality. Also, she has black wings tattooed on her shoulders. “Live a little”, she seductively aspirates. This sensual girl is not only competition for the role. In her pure passion and guile, Lily is what Nina fantasizes about – the incarnation of the Black Swan, her alter ego, her photo negative.

Centuries of story telling, and Hollywood still clings to mythology of good and evil. Now, however, the horror stands on ballet shoes, dressed in tutu.

White is innocent, black is destructive. It is all over the mise-en-scène. So, is it too simple to be thrilling?

In one word: yes. The movie as a whole is like Nina, too slick to achieve greatness. When the subtext screams at you, it simply becomes vulgar text.

Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) was different, subtler and yet more shocking. His more recent movie, “The Wrestler” (2008), put human meat and flesh right in front of your eyes, allowing the audience to peer through the peephole of society’s margins.

Actually, it is the Portman’s interpretation breathing new life into Tchaikovsky’s piece on celluloid. Apparently as much as Aronofsky throws all dualities and polarities into the Thaikowsky ballet to up-front the audience (in a “Psychology 101” manner), he stipulates the transcendent performance of his actors on stage. Five Oscar nominations are proof enough. A pregnant Portman already carried her Golden Globe home.

When Portman’s toes stand fully erect and carry her one-year trained and starved body’s weight, this one movement reflects all the inspiring grace and harsh discipline of the art of ballet.

                                                                                                                    © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox
Her close-up captures the anxiety of a child who sleeps among pink teddy bears. Her character is a real virgin on the social playground of adults. Her life is ballet, incarcerated by her obsessive former ballerina mother, falling apart under the pressure.

The stereotypical anorexia and bulimia appear to be her softest enemies. Nina gets blackouts. She awakes with broken nails, and red streams on her back – stigmata. The closer the opening night of the “Swan Lake”, the more brutal becomes her delusion - right up until black pinfeathers suddenly grow from her shoulders.

Skin and nerves are entirely shredded along the transformation of the White into the Dark Swan. As the script does not allow a Grey Swan, Portman carries her character all the way to the abyss and brutally pushes her in.

The fight between dream and madness is in her Bambi eyes from the very first second her face appears on screen.

It is suppressed sexuality, and shy purity bursting into flames, and this right at the 21st century New York City Ballet. Self-destruction is timeless.

With a piece of her mirror image, Nina kills a part of herself. It is finally decided which part is the stronger one – the White Swan kills the Black Swan. So it seems at first. But while stabbing the "Lily" inside herself, she also kills her delicateness, her sweet vulnerability; her innocence. A flash of true awakening – but the show must go on.

The White Swan weakly glimmers and then collapses.

On stage, the perfection burns. The Black Swan takes over. Guile and passion and blood on white tutu. When Nina throws herself down the abyss into the white soft mattress, she escapes the madness.

The dance is over, finally. And Portman can go to the Oscars.

The "Black Swan" (Aronofsky, 2010) trailer tells it all:

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