Sunday, January 16, 2011

My thoughts on Black Swan

Natalie Portman
Niko Tavernise via Fox Searchlight

I'm finally getting around to writing my thoughts on the movie Black Swan. Though I'm a month late in writing this, I figured this would be a good time since the Golden Globes are on tonight. Black Swan is nominated for 4 Globes, and Natalie Portman is the favorite in the best actor category. By the way, I think this will be her first real public showing with the new "bun" in the oven so to speak.

Anyway, it is interesting, because although I had known about Black Swan being an Oscar contender way before its actual release date, it wasn't until about a week before its limited release that it began to garner a huge amount of press. I first heard about the lengths which Natalie Portman went through for the role in this Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross (as you can tell I listen to a lot of NPR ;-)) Then, there were a slew of other articles which came out about "discipline", possible encouragement of eating disorders, etc. This movie was quite the buzz, especially for body image/eating disorder advocates, the pro-ana movement, and the ballet world. More attention was given with the New York Times ballet critic Alastair Macauley' s disparaging remark of Jennifer Ringer's body "looking as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many" in his review of the Nutcracker. With all this press, would it cause more people to actually see the movie?

I do not know the actual figure count into how many people have seen the movie. Critics have given it quite a number of accolades. People, in general, however have viewed it with mixed reactions. One dog trainer I know on facebook (she is not into tutus, frills, or ballet) wound up loving it, relating it to the movie Stigmata. A number of reviews I've seen by other people thought the movie was good, but it wasn't one they would necessarily see again.

Here's my take, it was a good movie, Natalie Portman portrayed the role of Nina well, but it is not a movie for everyone. I still have some mixed feelings about it since it does show an exaggerated, albeit dark side to the world of ballet. A few Canadian professional ballet dancers explain it well here. Also, I think some of the sexuality in the film could have been toned down. I just didn't see it as necessary, but then again this is Hollywood, and drama brings in big bucks.

In terms of the "encouragement" of eating disorders, I had a hard time seeing that. Yes, there were several food scenes where Nina hardly ate or just took a taste of congratulatory cake her mom had brought her, scenes of purging (though this seemed a lot more due to nervousness, worry than a feeling of fat). The dancers in general were thin--overly I don't think but then again my view of thin may be different from what someone else sees. The thing about whether this movie would be triggering, well, it depends on how you look at it. Some may see it as glorifying eating disorders if that is what they are looking for; while others view it vastly differently in that it gives just an opposite opinion. You have to decide for yourself on that one.

In terms of themes, the movie portrays a number of them, including dedication, physical price for an art, obsession, paranoia, an overcontrolling parent, and most of all perfection. Throughout the movie, you hear Nina say, "I just want to be perfect." It becomes an all consuming adjective that many of us can relate to. Natalie Portman portrays this well in the role--to the point of craziness with hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. In the end, she sacrifces herself for it with her last line, "I was perfect." Some might call this melodramatic or over the top, but really what is shows is the idea that when you become so wrapped up in something, you lose yourself figuratively and possibly literally.

There are a few other stand out quotes from the movie, both said by Thomas Leroy, the ballet director in the movie. "The only person standing in your way is you" and "Perfection is not just about control...It's also about letting go."

These remind me a lot of recovery--that there is something to be said for letting go to be perfect. Perfectionism isn't just about the aspects of restraint and control but also to feel, to have balance in your life, to realize there is a lot out there rather than the bubble we may place ourselves in, etc. I hope we can eventually all get outside our insular bubble before we lose ourselves or have the inability to grasp it again within reach.

Notes--Fox Searchlight site has a a lot of good info. about insight into the movie. I was also really glad that although the actors took a very strenuous approach for these roles, they were able to quickly get themselves to a healthier state. One thing Natalie did say in an interview which I do not think all actors do is that when she finishes a scene, she goes back to herself. I think this helped her not fall into an ED victim with extreme dieting and exercise.


Lisa said...

I did find it really strong and inspiring that portman was able to do this movie- basically use the restricting symptoms- i read that she said she lived off of coffee basically and not fall into a real ED.


Telstaar said...

Thanks for your take on this. It's all very interesting. My therapist this morning told me that he'd like me to see it if I feel up to it, not for the ed side of things remotely but to understand more about human nature, having things stolen from you, and lots of other sub plots or ideas he believes can be demonstrated in the film (whether they were intended or not).

He told me to go see it on a bright sunshiny day and told me to make sure I have a therapy session with him afterwards (I think he's a bit nervous as to how I'll cope with some of it) but yeah.... I don't know, its got me intrigued and all a little nervous!

I'll try to remember to let you know how I go!!!

*hugs* xo

I Hate to Weight said...

i found the moving truly disturbing and, actually, disappointing.

all the gory-ness pulled me out of the movie. i wasn't as engrossed as i wanted to be.

re; eating disorders. starving is so very dangerous. this is going to sound extreme, but i don't think movies should be made where actresses/actors are asked to put their health in jeopardy. my entertainment is not worth their health.

the ballet world overall disturbs. although ballet is exquisite, again, my entertainment is not worth all the potentially even fatal fall-out

just my opinion -- but it ain't gonna happen

Tiptoe said...

Lisa, I agree. Not every actor can pull themselves out. Many people have said that because she went to those extreme,s she truly looked the part of a prima ballerina.

Telly, yes, I am interested in your insights and thoughts. It is interesting that your T. recommended it though.

Melissa, yes, there were definitely disturbing parts in the movie. I agree with you on Hollywood standards. Whenever I think about the whole losing weight/gaining weight for parts, I am always drawn to poor Renee Zwellger for her role in Bridgette Jones's diary. IMO, it escalated her problem further.

I was reading a review from a ballerina out of the UK (Black Swan just opened there, so everyone is reviewing it there), and she was saying that although AN/BN, etc. still happen, more often than not, they are better taken care of--that the modern dance schools know more what to look for. But on another note, the person also said that if you did not "look" the part physically--thin, proportionate, elongated body look, right hands, etc., you were pretty much dismissed. You'd likely never get the dream part.