I took myself to the movies today to finally see Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller set in the world of professional ballet. While I am hardly a dancer by any means, I did spend four seasons acting for the NYC Ballet and have performed in that magnificent Lincoln Center theatre, so I'd like to think I have a little insight into the subject matter.
Ballet dancers are very unlike actors in that while they understand technique and performance, they have no clue as to how to access character. And such is the problem with Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a featured soloist who so very much covets the role of the Swan Queen in the company's upcoming production of 'Swan Lake.' Company director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) sees great promise in Nina, whose technique is nearly perfect, but who has no idea how to access the passion required to dance the role in which she has been cast.
That may well be because her insanely over-protective passive-aggressive mother (Barbara Hershey) has kept her sheltered in their cramped apartment for most of her life. When new dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) joins the company, the stakes are raised and Nina begins to push herself harder than ever. So hard, in fact, that she becomes obsessed to the point-of-no-return.
Nina soon begins to exhibit signs of instability, starting with a series of scratches on her back and leading to... well, see the movie for yourself. Needless to say, Nina's descent into madness is a harrowing thing to watch. It doesn't help that the company's bitter former Prima Ballerina (Winona Ryder) attempts suicide, resulting in an ugly wound to her leg which ensures she'll never dance again.
Portman's performance here is simply breathtaking and she certainly deserves every accolade she's been given, including last night's Golden Globe win. It actually saddens me that her follow-up is in what looks like a completely lame romantic comedy, No Strings Attached. Cassel is appropriately creepy as the pompous director and Kunis has come a long way from her "That 70's Show" roots, embodying the role of the calculating upstart in a dance version of All About Eve. Hershey gives the most over-the-top performance as the smothering Mother From Hell. Ryder isn't given much to do other than to play bitter, but she does so with a certain panache only she could bring to the role. Aronofsky's direction is spot on, even if he is a bit heavy-handed with the black & white imagery and the proliferation of swan figures in as many scenes as he could manage. One can only imagine how much darker (and it's pretty dark) this film could have been in the hands of say, David Fincher or Christopher Nolan. **** (Four Out of Four Stars). Black Swan is rated "R" for Strong Sexual Content.
And now on to the second part of this post - Movie-Going Etiquette:
I may well have enjoyed this film much more than I did if it weren't for the neanderthal seated directly to my left. The auditorium was crowded because it was both a holiday and Portman's win at the Golden Globes. The person (I refuse to use the word 'gentleman') seated on my left was the worst kind of movie patron. He spent the first half of the film grunting and snorting his way through his bag of popcorn, poking me in the ribs with his elbow every time he reached into his bag. He gabbed to his companion constantly, commenting on the movie and questioning things he didn't understand. When he finally set his empty popcorn bag on the floor, he made much of wiping his hands on about a dozen napkins, before toting out his Smartphone to check his messages.
So - a note to movie-goers everywhere. YOU ARE NOT AT HOME! You are sharing a film experience with people who have paid the same amount as you to see a movie. The rest of us don't care what you think (or don't understand) about the film. We don't want to listen to you eating like a sow at the trough; we don't want to be poked by your elbow or blinded by the light from your phone. We want to see the movie without you intruding on it like some annoying gopher spoiling our gardens. If you cannot be civil in public, then stay home and burp and fart your way through movies on DVD or Pay Per View. We paid to see a movie, not listen to your bodily functions.
Rant over. If you have yet to see Black Swan, then I urge you to do so. It's certainly one of the most disturbing and brilliant films you'll see in a long time. Just try to see it as far away from an idiot as you can.