Monday, March 28, 2011

The Black Swan: Pretentious Pop Psychology Pap

Darren Aronofsky’s The Black Swan and Natalie Portman have struck gold this awards season. With all the hype and hoopla surrounding this flick plus the extremely interesting premise, I could not wait to watch it. And when I finally, got around to watching it, I found it to be a seriously disappointing cinematic experience.
Nina (Portman) is a dedicated ballerina, the perfect daughter, and nothing else. She spends her days obsessing about perfecting her ballet moves and returns straight home pausing only to experience delusions and hallucinations on the subway before rushing into mommy’s (Barbara Hershey) suffocating embrace. Her life changes when she lands the dream role of Odette/ Odile in her company’s production of Tchaikovsky’s immortal Swan Lake after the long – in – the - tooth prima ballerina played by Winona Ryder is kicked out.
The head of the company, Thomas (a sublime Vincent Cassell) tells Nina that she is perfect as the White Swan given her virginally pure looks and technical mastery of ballet. However, he is not sure she will be convincing as the sexy, seductive, uninhibited Black Swan although he thinks she has the potential to pull it off. He feels Lily (Mila Kunis) with her free – wheeling sexuality would be a more viable choice for the Black Swan and makes her the alternative. In what turns out to be a demonic move, a la Mephistopheles in Faust he orders her to go home and masturbate in order to er… loosen up a little and in inducing her to loosen the hinges of her inner repression he winds up pushing a troubled soul over the edge and causes her to become unhinged.
Nina, in her bid to transform into her character slips from her perfectly ordered world into one of chaos, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, self – mutilation, and destruction. The parallels that are drawn between her life and Swan Lake, a common enough bit of theatrics where onstage and offstage actions mirror each other are obvious but Aronofsky painstakingly and triumphantly spoon feeds this pap to us all the way to the long – drawn out and overwrought finale. It reminds one in a rather horrifying way of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and what he is capable of if given a free hand and an unlimited Hollywood – style budget.
Aronofsky is so obsessed with technique and stylistics that he fails to make Nina a real human being, the audience can identify with. And her descent to psychosis is far from convincing. From stealing things, tearing out her fingernails, and scratching her back a tad too violently she makes the transition to a raving lunatic rather too abruptly. And like Nina, after a point even you have trouble figuring out what is real and what is not. This deliberate withholding of pertinent details and leaving plot points to the imagination might be considered by some to be artistically brilliant but in this case it is a lame cop – out as Aronofsky prefers to take a theatrical short – cut and chicken out of truly plumbing the inner recesses of Nina’s psyche and contents himself with some superficial and ineffectual probing. Martin Scorsese did a brilliant job of exploring the unraveling of Howard Hughes’ mind in the Aviator and Aronofsky would have done well to take a page out of his book.
As for Portman’s academy – winning performance, all I can say is WHAT A GYP! I think the voters felt guilty for not giving her the deserved Oscar for Closer and decided to make it up to her. For Nina is truly annoying and what makes the whole thing worse is that it is a one – woman show and a blatant academy award vehicle for Portman. She wears a perpetually tortured expression in practically every scene and finally you want to shove her off the cliff of sanity on which she is teetering yourself. Much has been made out of how physically demanding this role has been for her as she took 20 pounds off her already emaciated frame. But the results are disappointing. She looks positively skeletal with her skin – drawn tautly over the skull which is all that is left of her face and way older that the ageing ballerina she is replacing. Dewy – skinned Lily would have been the obvious choice for the lead in real life. And as for her dancing we have only Thomas’ word that it is excellent. To be fair, there are flashes of brilliance in her portrayal of Nina particularly in the ‘horror’ moments but ultimately it has got to be one of the most over – rated performances of all time.
As regards the critical acclaim and the awards handed out to this stupid, pretentious, over – the – top, stylistic but lacking in substance, below – average, pseudo – intellectual, cheesy flick all I can say is that perhaps it is time the Hollywood head honchos got over themselves. Already!