22 December 2010

Black Swan *

Upon second viewing, I'm really left with the same impression as from my first viewing, only heightened: the same antsiness or impatience with certain repeated beats, the same detachment and distance from what's going on and who it's happening to. It occurs to me, in fact, that my emphasis on the precision of the storytelling (which led me to think on precision in filmmaking in general) comes right out of the story's themes -- how could I not come away pondering the dichotomy between precise attempts at dramatic "perfection" and the looser, "losing oneself" naturality that must be achieved to really "transcend"? It's right there in the text.

And in that sense, I think Black Swan plays out like the most direct metaphor for artist-versus-art Aronofsky has laid out yet. Just as how everybody read Inception as a manifesto for Nolan's approach to filmmaking, this might be an analogy for Aronofsky's style, and maybe Nina Sayers is an analog for how Aronofsky sees himself. The majority of his fims are precise, philosophically rich, clinically well-produced films about characters either struggling to or struggling not to let go. If the line is drawn between control and imprecision, Darren Aronofsky clearly (and accurately) places himself firmly as one on the controlled camp, though he seems to look longingly across the divide. He acknowledges that the best of the best are the times when the two sides come together impossibly, and he seems to yearn almost desperately to find that place himself. But like the Coens, both Andersons (master P.T. and hipster Wes), Nolan and Fincher and others, he isn't known for letting go. The argument makes me want to revisit The Fountain, which feels to me like it might be his boldest move toward letting go and losing himself to a story that's more poetry than prose, but I haven't seen it in years and I can't say I'm not tainting my memory by trying to place it as a fascinating outlier among his works.

Black Swan holds up for a second viewing, but for me it still feels a little too arm's-length, too deliberate and tightly plotted, and Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassell -- though they all give really good performances -- never rise above feeling like performances. In fact, the whole film reminds me of a Sean Penn or Daniel Day Lewis performance: a profound impersonation of every tic and subtle gesture that's just a little too spot-on and accurate, and comes off as calculated rather than organic and real. Most Coen Brothers films strike me like this to varying degrees (and I love and respect them, and Aronofsky, and Day Lewis and Penn, quite a lot, so bear that in mind as I lay down the critical hammer here), but it's always the ones that feel like more and less than mere performance that for me will stand out and rise above. Black Swan isn't quite that for me. It's too perfect.

Seen at the Regal Fox Tower.

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