Black Swan

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUx5_NLFxe8

YOU GUYS, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis took a risk and hit that shit out of the fucking park. Wow. I’ve never seen a movie with such visceral acting, such an honest portrayal of dysfunctional family dynamics, and that was so. fucking. creepy.

Basically, Nina Sayers (Portman) has been working with her ballet company for four years. This is her season: Beth, who’d been the prima ballerina, is getting forcibly retired, and Nina’s slated to be the lead for Swan Lake. She’s perfect for the part. Her precision, fragility, and innocence are the essence of the tragic Swan Queen.  New to the company is Lily (Kunis), who makes up for her imprecision and flakiness with her sheer passion for dance. She’s also perfect for the Swan Queen: her zest for life and unpredictability are the trademarks of the Black Swan, the seductive other half of the Swan Queen role. What she lacks for in form, she makes up for in flair, sensuality, and bravada.

Natalie Portman in her costume for the Black SwanAs opening night approaches, Nina goes through an exquisite nervous breakdown. Lily reaches out to her, multiple times, but the rivalries engendered by a field where women over 28 are already past their prime makes any friendship between them impossible and dangerous for both. Moreover, the Black Swan has begun to spread its wings in Nina’s heart. Her lust/envy for Lily, her desire to break free of her mother’s control, and her drive towards perfection are an intoxicating, heady mix. All this is further complicated by Nina’s own coming-of-age as a dancer: Beth’s forced retirement, her manager’s casual sexual harassment, and Lily’s own cynicism highlight that the artistic world Nina thought of as sacred is also a business place where women’s bodies, health, and sanity all have expiration dates. This is not a love story. This is not a story about salvation. This is a story about artistry, perfection, and their worthiness as life-passions.

Here’s a great interview with the director where he talks about the awesomeness of Portman and Kunis. Here’s another interview from AfterEllen that talks a little more about the sex scene between the two actresses.

Comments

  1. The Other Patrick says

    I’m really, really looking forward to this film. Even though I feel queasy about the abuse ballet dancers heap on their bodies, I find ballet fascinating as well. And from all the places I trust, I only hear extremely good things about this film.

  2. Casey says

    I was iffy on seeing this because the ad campaign came off so obnoxious to me, like it was gonna be Single White Female but with ballerinas, now I wanna see it! (and I’ll take my friend who has a perverse sexual lust for ballerinas and wangstyness) :D :D :D

  3. Keely says

    This movie bothers me because everything I’ve read about it (and everything I’ve heard from those who have seen it) indicates that there is absolutely no reason for the lesbian sex scene, that it’s an entirely gratuitous scene between two girls otherwise presented as straight only included to titillate and make the film seem “edgier” or “riskier.”

    When a lowbrow movie like Jennifer’s Body uses faux lesbianism to sell itself to heterosexual male audiences, it is typically called out on its bullshit–and rightfully so. But when highbrow films like The Hours and now, apparently, Black Swan do it nobody seems to care. Why is that?

    • says

      When I saw it in the film I didn’t think it was gratuitous.

      [Spoilers]

      Nina is a very sexually repressed character, and this is manifesting in many ways. She repressed in many, many ways, but that’s one of them. Her sexuality is a HUGE part of the film, which makes it differ greatly from Jennifer’s Body, in which sexuality just kind of seemed to be a part of the film because, you know, teenagers. Or something. I didn’t get that either.

      And, well, Nina was established as having hallucinations and as having a hard time with reality, and then she was drugged. She is having huge issues not only with that, but with her identity and “who she is supposed to be.”

      I honestly think a lot of the complaints towards lesbian sex scenes in films, however, has to do with people not wanting homosexual sex scenes in movies. I doubt there are many complaints about gratuitous hetero sex scenes–like, if she actually did have sex with her director, would people complain about that? Actually, that was a huge complaint I had about the film The Kids Are All Right. The hetero sex was very graphic. The lesbian sex was hidden under a duvet cover. If there wasn’t such a taboo around gay sex, I would say it’s because that relationship was struggling, but considering how much stifling happens with gayness…(this would also include reactions to Michael C. Hall’s various characters–he’s quoted somewhere as saying people loved Dexter and that Dexter is super violent over Dexter being in a sexually active gay role in Six Feet Under.)

      Though, really, you should see the film to decide for yourself. I found the scene neither titillating nor sexy, and it’s an incredibly powerful scene as well–I have no doubt it was hinted at in trailers to titillate and as an attempt to bring in the people who movie peeps may not think will ant to see a film about ballerinas. In the larger narrative, however, I think it fits, is well done, is terrifying (…if you see it you can see why), and is really not gratuitous or frivolous. IMO, anyway.

      • Maria says

        The lesbian sex scene* was useful because it exposed exactly how taken for granted particular parts of Nina’s identity were for both her and the audience. I didn’t feel like it came out of nowhere — the hints that she might’ve been attracted to girls were pretty there (like her noticing Lily on the subway, her girl-crush on Winona Ryder’s character, her anxiety over sex/sexuality in general). Plus, the way it was shot really conveyed how overwhelming and REAL her hallucinations were, and how much they combined her self-contempt, her resentment towards her mother, her anger at her repression, etc. It’s a REAL scene but I wouldn’t say it’s a pleasurable one — it’s really scary, actually, even though it’s also really sexy.

        *and really, could we call it bi? Or queer? Or questioning? I think it’s possible to read Mila Kunis’ character as bi, and Nina’s heterosexuality is only assumed through social pressure (IE her director hitting on her, asking other cast members if they’d fuck her, and him demanding to know if she was a virgin) and not because she’s like, OMG I LOVE COCK STICK IT IN.

        • SunlessNick says

          Nina’s heterosexuality is only assumed through social pressure (IE her director hitting on her, asking other cast members if they’d fuck her, and him demanding to know if she was a virgin) and not because she’s like, OMG I LOVE COCK STICK IT IN.

          And that’s not her being portrayed as anything. Rather it’s a depiction of the social cage that’s around her.

          (Note that I haven’t seen Black Swan, so I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with anyone about the sex scene, merely reacting to this part of Maria’s comment)

          • Maria says

            That’s what I was trying to get at. And when she does do stuff like kiss a guy or whatever, it’s a toxic/self-destructive release of sexuality and is directly linked to her bodily exploitation as a dancer. Like, the only time she initiates a kiss with a man, is after she’s started to hallucinate transforming into the black swan and has hallucinated murdering Lily… And Lily is the only person who reaches out to her as an equal, and the person for whom the conquest of Nina’s body would not be a clear-cut victory. I’d be hesitant to say it’s a gratuitious scene, since so much of what’s crazy about Nina’s world becomes clear in that scene and the scenes immediately afterwards.

          • SunlessNick says

            And Lily is the only person who reaches out to her as an equal, and the person for whom the conquest of Nina’s body would not be a clear-cut victory.

            Having seen it now, I agree. Lily is also the only person who treats Nina’s technical precision and control as something to aspire to; Tomas is all “it’s all very well, BUT” before holding Lily’s passion up as what Nina should be doing. But Lily, to whom the passion comes easily, straight-up admires the things Nina does better.

            It makes me wonder: is it ubiquitous in Swan Lake for the white and Black Swans to be played by the same woman? Because one corner of my mind was thinking about an interpretation that draws on the feelings these two might have about one another, each envying or aspiring to some quality they see in their counterpart.

            • Maria says

              Yeah, in the major historical performances of it it’s the same dancers. In Princess Tutu, Tutu dances as the White Swan and Kraehe as the black, but they’re more equal and opposites — and neither is being her “true” self. Kraehe was lied to by her adopted father, and Tutu’s a duck who wants to be a ballerina who’s also a princess.

      • Casey says

        For what it’s worth, I complain about ALL gratuitous sex scenes in movies…just hetero and lesbian scenes are used the most.

        (I’d actually be like OMG BEST THING EVAR!!1 if I saw a movie with a gratuitous m/m sex scene…I guess I’m biased ;P)

        • says

          Yeah, me too. That’s so RARE, I can’t even think of any besides Brokeback Mountain and I don’t remember that being as graphic as this.

          (Also I agree with all else that was said in above comments…XD Just thought I’d throw that out there…)

    • The Other Patrick says

      They way I have heard it – so possible spoilers, but I wouldn’t know – is that the film plays very much with the idea of mirror character, and maybe Mila Kunis even being just a fragmented part of Portman’s psyche. And since the film seems to follow psychoanalytic ideas, the dark sensuality and sexuality of the Black Swan that Portman seems to be missing might just call to her and cause her to try and understand it this way.

      • SunlessNick says

        I’ve seen the film now, and while being British I metaphor with cricket rather than baseball, I agree completely with Maria that Portman and Kunis batted sixes.

        Mila Kunis even being just a fragmented part of Portman’s psyche.

        Spoilers…

        Kunis’s character is definitely real, but we see her almost all the time through Nina’s eyes. As Nina falls apart, Lily becomes more malevolent, but that becoming is of course told through unreliable narration. There’s no definitive narrative cue as to which scenes of Lily can be taken as reliable and which not – all of that is down to Kunis’ performance, as she has to play to some extent within Nina’s headspace.

        It seemed to me that the more malevolent Lily and the more disentegrated Nina became, the more their mannerisms shaded into each other, which of course it should, since one character is responsible for both. But Portman and Kunis pull it off beautifully – and by doing so add another dimension to the sense of them as mirror characters – and a sort of meta-metaphor, it being a film about dance.

  4. SunlessNick says

    All this is further complicated by Nina’s own coming-of-age as a dancer: Beth’s forced retirement, her manager’s casual sexual harassment

    The scenes where Beth “retires,” and where Tomas forces his hand into Nina’s crotch and kisses her, were painful, in just how… imprisoned Nina is in all this. Tomas announces her starring role in a way that makes it so damn clear that it’s at the expense of Beth’s career ending – and waits, what is it a day? – before stoking Nina’s fear of the same happening to her. And then he forcibly gropes her and calls it choreography, and a demonstation of what she’s doing wrong – and she defends it because he’s “brilliant,” and because she has to, because if it wasn’t brilliance and choreography, what would it be, and what would that mean, and what could she do about it? And Tomas barely even knows he’s doing it; he’s so sure of the authority he has over her body, that he acts on autopilot. Almost as if – in the metaphor of Nina being imprisoned – he’s not so much the jailer as the cage. I’ve seen far more graphic rapes and other sexual asaults in film, but I’ve seen few scenes that so completely depict rape culture.

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