I saw Black Swan at the Savannah Film Festival a few months ago. What follows are my notes, taken in the dark, on a yellow legal pad. But before I air and share, may I just say again how awesome SCAD is? The festival, yes, but the school itself? I totally want to go back to school and have a studio. Okay, ball’s back into play:
The opening of the film, with Natalie Portman as good girl Nina ripping up the soles of ballet shoes, scoring them, her reflection in a mirror—rhythm, metered steps, a French accent. And all I can think is that I should be harder, stricter, a black twin of myself. Hard, conniving, tough. A mother you remember for getting in your face and pulling the best out of you. Can you embody both white and black? Be a twin of yourself? Can you be a graceful white swan and also be a back-stabbing bitch? Yes we can!
We see a spider spinning a web. Then, Lily arrives in dark colors, clearly to serve as the badass to beat, the one on which we need to keep a watchful eye. It’s been my experience during this festival that any time ominous music plays or we’re shown “bad,” dressed in dark colors, etc. that it’s a bait and switch on the audience, trying to mislead us. This will likely be the case with this “psychological thriller.”
Bulimia. It’s just there. Obviously it’s there, in a world of ballet. And I like that they don’t make an issue out of it. For once, something understated. Good.
“Ever do something so forcefully for so long that you see your whole world through that lens?” I used to dream in advertisements, and when I was younger, addicted to Super Mario Brothers, I used to read textbooks and would sometimes imagine Mario jumping from word to word, banging on the letters in the previous sentence, hoping to find a mushroom or hidden coins. So yes, it’s a provocative question, and it’s relatable.
It’s a wonder this film wasn’t shot in black and white. Good/evil, Madonna/whore. It’s just one step away from giving us Straight Hair v. Curly. There’s Nina, picking her cuticles, wanting to be perfect. “Perfectionism isn’t just about being in control; it’s about knowing how to let go and be wild.”
The bathroom is a place of secrets. Phone calls, bulimia, reflections, self, reflection- cutting, pain, locks on doors.
Nina is always in blush, whites, innocent, except she reveals her “shadow” – steals a lipstick. No surprise here, that same lipstick wrote whore on the mirror. Just my guess, but I’m sure I’m right. We’ll see…
Black Swan is about the battle of selves, about the shadow, the evil, imprecise, wild, sloppy, devastating part of ourselves.
More symbolism, a black and white Rorschach. The director of the ballet, the dude who calls the shots, calls Beth a pet name, and I’m sure he will call Nina the exact pet name later. God, I hope they don’t do that—a la Legally Blonde. This film has the palette of a Betty Boop bedroom: blush, black, white.
Beth, he says, he thinks threw herself in traffic on purpose, like a black swan. It’s all analogy. Nina visits Beth in the hospital, flowers bedside, same as a dressing room. Mirror décor.
A nail file, box of matches, lipstick. Biting her nails in the dark, so much internal shown visually. The nail file. Control. A weapon. Lily says aloud, that the girl in black “lives a little.” She lets you kiss her even when she’s wearing red lipstick—my words. I find it so interesting, the notion that a nail file is meant to control, to tame, to round the sharp, yet it’s also a weapon. It is it’s own Black Swan, a duality in an object show to mirror what’s going on in the film, what’s going on in the ballet.
Why is everyone touching Natalie Portman’s crotch?
People arriving out of shadows. Taming of the beast within, “You’re not my Nina right now.” Serpent sounds, bulimia, cutting, control. “There’s always an alternate.” Coco, nail file, lipstick, cigarettes: the things Nina steals from Beth, the previous star playing the role Nina so wants to play now. I’m getting a “be careful what you wish for vibe,” and it’s obvious that Nina’s story will mirror the story of the ballet. She’ll throw herself “in traffic” like Beth, or in some other way, just like the swan at the end of the ballet.
The symbolism was heavy-handed, and in truth, I didn’t love the film, mostly because of the predictability and obvious manipulation of the audience. Or maybe it was just obvious to me. I guess I wish the symbolism was more subliminal, that the story of Nina wasn’t a replica of what was going on in the ballet, but then it would be a different film. In keeping with the duality theme, I’ll allow that parts of the film have stayed with me, looming, but mostly the film feels like a structured term paper, played out for our entertainment. It’s textbook analogy, with parallels and kinship. Only sometimes you have to remind yourself to breathe… which is a good thing in a thriller. So, maybe I did like the film. See, what I did there? Huh? Went ahead and flashed you some of my black and white feathers. We’re all a confusion of black white, but I think we indecisive Libras have it as bad as the Gemini twins.