Filed under: movies, music | Tags: Academy Awards, Bafta, ballet, barbara hershey, bipolar, black and white, Black swan, dance, darren oronofsky, gibberish, mark gorman gibberish, mental breakdown, Mental illness, mickey rourke, Mila Kunis, natalie portman, raging bull, schizophrenia, the baftas, the oscars, the Wrestler, thriller, understudies, vincent cassel
Black Swan is the most visceral cinematic experience I’ve had since maybe Raging Bull. So, it’s about ballet? So what. Ballet is merely the structure on which this tragedy about mental breakdown, maybe schizophrenia is played out.
Using the metaphor of black and white (the swans) to portray, good and evil, right and wrong, strength and weakness director Darren Aranofski paints a picture of what’s going on in the head of Natalie Portman as she gradually falls apart under the pressure of preparing to dance Swan Lake; with a backdrop of a doubtful choreographer, an ambitious understudy, a jealous mother and a fallen Prima ballerina; all exerting pressure of one sort or another on the poor little virgin that is Portman.
Portman delivers a tour de force (Oscar certainty) performance as she wrestles with the devils in her mind and tries to prove all the doubters wrong. It’s a remarkable performance in so many ways, so vulnerable (which could just have been fey) and yet so strong. Surely the Academy can look no further.
But the real star of the show – notwithstanding powerhouse performances from Barbara Hershey (wonderful as the mother), Winona Ryder in a Mommie Dearest descent into her own madness, Vincent Cassel (as the unforgiving choreographer and philanderer) and Mila Kunis as the threat from the Corps de Ballet – is director Darren Aronofsky. My God, another huge contender for Academy recognition. His direction of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler was eye opening, but this moves him onto yet another level. He is garnering a reputation for bringing mental instability to the screen in a way that is eye opening and shocking.
And that’s another thing about this move, it’s a quite thrilling shockfest. There’s a bunch of “gotcha” moments that have you ducking for cover (quite a few shreiks were let out in our relatively small audience) as he makes the most of the ability to confuse and wrongfoot his audience.
And then there’s the sex. I’ll not go into detail here, but it is a central motif of the film (starting from the premise that Portman is a 24 year old virgin) and is certainly worthy of debate, but I don’t want to spoil it for you here.
All I’ll say is that sitting next to my 16 year old daughter as it played out made for a degree of discomfort!
All in all this is a truly outstanding piece of film-making. In Darren Aronofsky we have one of America’s next great directors really cementing his claims for greatness and Natalie Portman never has, and never will, have a part this great again.
Do NOT wait for the DVD, it will not be the same.
Filed under: Arts, creativity, life, movies, sports, stories | Tags: mickey rourke, the ram, the Wrestler
I missed this first time round but watched it on DVD last night. Funnily enough, I watched Crazy Heart the night before and the two films felt very much of the same sentiment.
Sean Penn won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Harvey Milk in Milk which was a great performance but I think the Academy must have debated long and hard who give it to. I think they made the wrong choice because although both Penn and Mickey Rourke actors carry their respective movies Penn’s portrayal was more of an impersonation; Rourke’s is a possession.
The story follows the fictional comeback years of a once great Wrestler (The Ram) who still has a loyal following and top billing, but in provincial events where the new generation are creating ever more bizarre wrestling characters with weirder and weirder means of entertaining their audiences. A life time of substance abuse has rendered The Ram susceptible to too much exertion and it is when he faces the “Necro Butcher” and his unorthodox method of staple gunning (with permission of course) his opponents that it all gets too much for Rourke and he suffers a heart attack that needs a bypass to save his life.
The operation brings him briefly to his senses and so we enter act 2 in which he tries to rekindle love in his life for his 21 year old daughter (nicely played by Evan Rachel Wood) and his “tart with a heart” lap dancing on-off flame.
Marisa Tomie, who plays the part, is awesome and certainly deserved her Oscar nomination; sadly she too failed to convert. But it’s all too much for both The Ram and his Beaus. The lure of the ring finally gets him back with a hair raising finale in which he takes on his old enemy “The Ayatollah” in a stage managed fiasco that simply breaks the heart.
This is a stunning character piece played by an actor who has made more comebacks than the character he lays. But Rourke is godlike. It is intensely reminiscent of De Nero’s performance in Raging Bull not just because of the subject matter but for the commitment that both men put into their job. At 56 this was surely an even greater feat by Rourke than the then still young De Nero. But the film is more than a testosterone laden gross out. It’s a heartfelt and beautiful study of failure in life, in love and in everything except integrity.