Black Swan (2010) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl
Mostly Black Swan is about waiting for Natalie Portman to orgasm. Her goody-two-shoes ballerina sleeps in a room full of stuffed animals and, frequently, the snoozing figure of her bitter, post-menopausal mom, played by Barbara Hershey. There are lots of close-ups of Portman’s face in lips-parted repose as something almost but not quite gets touched down-screen. Portman’s problem is that she can’t dance the part of Odile, the black swan in Swan Lake, with the sexy, dangerous conviction necessary to please her ballerina boss Vincent Cassell. This other ballerina (Mila Kundis) can, and some of this movie is sort of a thriller about how far Portman will go in both thwarting her rival and discovering—wait for it—THAT SHE IS HER OWN RIVAL! And that by tapping into her “dark impulse” she can be both white and black swan, good and bad artiste, virgin and whore! As Portman scampers about in pink leotards and fluffy white shrugs, we could hear, as through the glossy labial folds of an enormous conch shell, the tiny plink of the third wave crash around Darren Aronofsky’s male brain.
This movie was ridiculous. Perhaps it was meant to be, but we are fairly certain that when Portman goes on a crazed tear through her own psyche—involving paintings talking to her from walls, blood seeping from her fingernails, and Winona Ryder stabbing herself in the face with a nail file—Aronofsky did not intend for the main reaction to be laughter, which is what occurred in the theater the night we saw it. This movie reminded us of our own first brushes with the fact that we had a vagina and also wanted to write poetry. What did it mean? Could both possibly co-exist? Or did the very fact of our genitalia mean we faced potential psychotic fissures so deep as to swallow our poetic ambitions, our healthy relationship with food, our very hopes for any kind of sex life whole, digesting them in a stomach acid bath of tired stereotypes, and eventually crapping the whole mess out across 60-odd pages of imitation-Anne Sexton, aka our first book? If Natalie Portman could only come, we thought, maybe the fate of the female artist could be something other than a sexual fetish with a death wish. But this movie isn’t about what it’s really like to be a woman, or an artist. Maybe it’s about what it’s like to be Darren Aronofsky. There was this scene near the end of the movie where Portman is pirouetting around the stage and her arms, as she turns, grow great black feathers and the soundtrack makes this whoosh-whoosh-whoosh like wings beating heavy against the sky. It reminded us of Yeats, and Leda, and the staggering girls we are, and hate to be, and still are. An honest exploration of the conundrum of sex, and art, and being a woman might have started there.