Why must we applaud those stories about hopelessness, darkness, and physical suffering? Why must those actors who undergo gruelling physical transformation and hardships to make a film get Oscars? Why is a portrayal descent into madness and abuse so likely to garner awards? Why are our classic stories full of obsession?
Black Swanis indeed dark, and those who call it a horror film rather than a thriller are the more accurate. There are several sections so full of acts with sharp objects to oneself and others that I couldn’t watch. Its brutality is relentless, its sexuality disturbing – everyone is either fearful or predatory, and it seems to encourage visceral passion without any tenderness or relationship, seeing this as freedom. It also says obsession and the quest for artistic perfection leads to a bloody end. Nina (Portman) starts to grow in confidence, but then descends further into an unstable state.
Why adverts for ballets go with this film bewilders me – for Black Swan does everything to discourage interest in ballet; some ballet companies have criticised the film for making their craft and academies seem like institutions of abuse and bitchiness – hardly fair trade culture.
But the most vital aspect of the story was missing – characters I cared about. There isn’t very much of a story and the dance scenes certainly didn’t help ballet’s case as an enjoyable art form to watch. In short, it was boring, disturbing, unpleasant and yet the portrayal offered nothing to challenge or inspire; and no social commentary. It didn’t even strike me as especially original. I loved Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain and Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta – both of which are curiously called low points in the careers of both in other publications; but Black Swan is a far poorer project for both director and lead. I really wished that the film would end or that I had chosen to see something else; somehow the thought of a repeat viewing of the mediocre King’s Speech felt appealing in comparison to this. As The King’s Speech posters says, all great films simply fill you with joy – and compared to Black Swan, Another Year which I criticised for being too miserable, is really quite jolly. But Swan Lake’s wonderful music had none of the power here that it did in Of Gods And Men.
It’s not that Nina dies at the end which makes it negative – for death is not the worst thing that can happen or the sign of tragedy or failure. Agora, Of Gods and Men and plenty of weepy romantic more mainstream films from Titanic to The Notebook end in the death of their protagonists; and as I wrote on Flickering myth, I see Amelia and Changeling as triumphs for their characters.
But I say – despite what you may read everywhere else, this is a classic case of one out many naked rulers and I wonder how many genuinely like the film and how many are jumping on a bandwagon of praise.