February 3, 2011

Geek Weekly: movie review - Black Swan

At some point I decided it would be cool to do a monthly movie review here on Geek Thursdays, so this is the first of many. At least twelve a year. NICE. Of course, that's going to require that I actually get out of the house and see a movie at least once a month. Which, considering the last three movies I saw were Black Swan, Half-Blood Prince, and Avatar(the first release) is going to be quite an interesting challenge. If all goes as planned, next month's review will be The Rite. (Yes, I know I'm not trying very hard to be SUPER CURRENT but at least I'm reviewing while they're still in the theater...)


After eleventy Oscar nominations and so much hype, I was a little worried that Black Swan wouldn't live up to expectations. In a way, it didn't... it blasted my expectations right out of the water.

What impressed me the most about this movie was how scary it was. I really wasn't expecting to spend so much time hiding behind my scarf. The slow build of tension was effective every time, but the movie also startled the crap out of me more than once when I was not expecting it. And as a veteran horror movie watcher, I'm usually pretty good at anticipating a scare. Nearly a week later, I'm still getting creeped out in the dark. Unlike, say, The Grudge, it isn't a specific image that haunts me but just a feeling. Like something's waiting for me in the dark. As far as I'm concerned, that's the sign of a great horror movie.

One of the things that made this movie so difficult to watch at times was the truly under-your-skin visceral feel of some scenes. The scratching, the focus on the damage these dancers can suffer to their feet, the vomiting... all added up to give the movie a distinctly squirmy feel. The worst was a scene which takes place in the bathroom (really, a lot of scenes take place in bathrooms)... Nina (Portman) is picking at a hangnail and ends up pulling up a long strip of skin, a bone-deep chunk halfway up to her elbow. It turns out to be a hallucination, but even so it left me feeling nauseous. Which I would rarely consider a compliment, but for this movie, it works. This visceral element pays off beautifully in her eerie transformation into the Black Swan near the end of the movie.

Of course I can't say enough about Natalie Portman's performance. She portrays the trembling, on-the-edge fragility of Nina so perfectly that I expected her to shatter into a million pieces at any moment. She does a beautiful job of making Nina's slow dissolution very understandable as she wilts under her mother's clinging attention, quails under the show director's gruff instruction, and boggles as Lucy (Mila Kunis), her self-proclaimed rival, does so easily what she cannot, despite throwing every ounce of herself into her craft. Mila Kunis is also wonderful in her role, as she effortlessly flips between the dark temptress of Nina's delusions and her friendly, laid back opposite.

And I'd be remiss as a bisexual woman if I didn't mention the love scene between Nina and Lucy after their night of drinking and standing up to Nina's mother. It's really startling and beautiful and terrifying, not to mention HAWT. And although both characters are clearly heterosexual, it was very natural and organic. It made perfect sense somehow that things would turn sexual between them in that moment. So much so that the revelation that it happened only in Nina's mind was a complete surprise to me.

Black Swan is a haunting and beautiful movie that gets under your skin and stays there. Do yourself a favor and go see it if you haven't already. You'll never look at ballerinas the same way again.

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