Eons ago, I thought I would indulge in the part of myself that loves movies that generate what’s ubiquitously known as “Oscar buzz”. I went with my friends and my sister to see A Beautiful Mind, the Russell Crowe/Ron Howard ‘masterpiece’ that was supposed to be just so wonderful and fantastic, the best movie ever, a psychological love story/tragedy, etc. etc. etc.
The movie, was awful; it was boring and bloated and boring and dull and dry and nonsensical and I hated every last stinking minute of it (all 800 of them, actually).
This year, among all the “Oscar buzz” flicks is Natalie Portman’s star vehicle, Black Swan. It’s an Aronofsky gory psychodrama! Wait… Aronofsky directs gory psychodramas? That’s so unusual for him.
After all of the things I’ve heard about this movie, from the “lesbian love scene” to Natalie Portman’s brilliant performance, to it being referred to as the “cinematic tour de force” of the year, etc. etc. etc. etc., I figured – I must see this movie. It’s something that looked intriguing to me, and something that might fascinate, provoke or move me in some fashion.
From the first scene, where Portman’s character, the oh-so-sweet Nina, eats a grapefruit and her Mommy Dearest-type mother and her echo each other’s simpering “it’s so pink and so pretty!” it was all downhill.
The shaky back-projection, the water motifs, the symbolism of the mirrors and the colours and the blood… were all so painfully obvious and simplistic, I just failed to see the point of the film’s message. It’s one thing to give a life-affirming thesis about one’s obsession with perfection; it’s another to nail us on the head with a dramatic journey into her “dark side”.
A character’s revealed dark side can be a revelation, no matter how cliche the notion; it can be a window into a change we see in the character, in turn demonstrating a change we wish to see in ourselves. But I failed to see myself in Portman’s troubled Nina. While the portrayal is arguably ‘good’, she spoke the equivilent of perhaps 4 or 5 pages of script, and most of her scenes involved fancy footwork (good), desperate stares into the distance (annoying), and a lot of hefty, grating creepy breaths and gasps (beyond irritating). We were supposed to buy into her adoration of her choreographer but instead, this devotion is portrayed with nothing more than artifice and a lot of groping and rapist-worthy kisses. The scenes between them, even the plutonic ones, were difficult for me to digest; I wanted to throw them up in fact which coincidentally, is a bodily fluid that literally comes up again and again in this film.
Conversely however, the world of anorexia in the ballet sector is never explored here. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I mean, we’ve seen it, in far less ambitious movies like Centre Stage for example; and Black Swan isn’t an after-school special. But these scenes of Portman in the bathroom puking her lungs out don’t add anything to the plot, and are only in there to demonstrate even more ugliness, seediness, obsession, loss of control and verging-on-creepy devotion. As if we needed anymore of any of the aforementioned “qualities”.
If the film dares not venture into over-walked territory such as body issues and anorexia, then why does it insist on giving us over-walked cookie cutter caricatures? The perverted choreographer, the dressed-in-black ‘bad girl’ character foil, the doting mother who dreamed of the ballet but didn’t make it, the jealous girls in the company, the jilted ex-girlfriend who has outgrown the perverted choreographer… these people are not even people. They hardly even exist in real life and they are drawn and dreamed up and they seem so; every line in this film is forcefully written as much as it is forcefully performed.
There isn’t a moment of naturalness here. Everything in the film is calculated, fake and above all else, PRETENTIOUS. It thinks a LOT of itself, and plays itself not for laughs as it well could have (and does accidentally, in fact; I wasn’t the only one in the theatre laughing) but in all hard-edged seriousness. It is designed to be an edgy thriller, a fringe story about being driven to madness in the name of perfection.
The moment this film opens, I could see how it ended. And from the moment the film opens practically, all I wanted was just that: the ending.
Aronofsky brought me my favourite movie of 2008, the great The Wrestler, in which sex, gore and grit had purpose and fit with the title character’s bleak, hopeless lifestyle and desperation for violence and for the limelight and glory days of his youth. In that film, everything feels sad and effortless and meaningful. The same techniques applied to one long cat fight with one’s self is ineffective and tends to, rather than showcase sadness and desperation, exploit attractiveness, slimness and erotica in the most meandering, obvious and/or brutally disgusting, despicable ways I’ve seen in a movie in eons.
Oscar buzz can generate an audience, can flip the minds of critics across the board, and even cause people to lie to themselves and each other, simply to remain in good graces of public opinion. I say, fuck public opinion. This movie bites harder than Portman bites Vincent Cassel (to which he replies something like, “hey! You bit me! That fucking hurt!”.. ugh).