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IN SHORT: mind blowing. [Rated R for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use. 103 minutes]
Screened during the movie biz equivalent of hell week (though it takes about three weeks or so to screen all the films that potentially have awards coming) Black Swan is the one film of all the films we've seen that has had crowds banging on the doors to get in. Seriously, a film about ballet is bringing cineastes out of the woodwork. We've seen stranger things happen but this is reality. Within the world of Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky messes with your mind -- and the minds of his characters on the screen -- pretty good.
Central to the story is ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman), whose technique is as close to perfect as her emotional delivery on the stage and in her personal life is as close to frigid as you could get. Though she has caught the eye of the artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), her idol is the company's prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder). As the new season begins, it is announced that Ms. MacIntyre will retire, which begins a competition within the company to take the lead and star in said company's first production of the post-MacIntyre era -- the coveted role of the Swan Queen in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.
For those whose educational systems have eliminated music from their curriculums: Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is the story of a virginal princess (sic) magically trapped within the body of a white swan. She can only be freed from her captivity by a kiss from her Prince. Said Prince, though, is seduced by the identical twin of our heroine, a black swan, and the endgame of the whole thing is as tragic as Tchaikovsky's music is awesome. (FYI, Cranky's first career was in rock 'n' roll radio. We've never been to a ballet in our life but know Swan Lake as well as we know the opera Rigoletto - thanks, Dad - and can safely report that, even if you really have no exposure to this classic, the music alone will blow you away.)
Black Swan is not a "pull a star out of the chorus" story, Nina has competition from a dancer imported from the left coast (that being San Fran). Lilly (Mila Kunis) may be competition. She may be a friend or a pal or something more. She may not give a damn about Nina at all. However it goes, the person closest to our heroine is her overprotective mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), herself once a ballet "star". Erica rules life from an old upper west side apartment than any New Yorker would kill to get his or her hands on <g> and there is more to her relationship with her daughter than we will reveal here.
From this set up Black Swan's story goes the whole nine yards -- parental authority versus a child blooming into stardom; friendships formed and broken and relationships that go off in all sorts of directions; the "hands on" rule of the artistic director for whom "hands on" means just that and, finally, the great question of whether a great performer can so lose herself in a role that a waiting, panting audience will fall to the ground with worship-like appreciation.
Worship is great but the flip side of that coin is the very real possibility that Nina, in this case, may find herself to be so lost in her role that she might very well lose her mind?
Any male dragged kicking and screaming to a movie theater to see this film will have a sexually nasty thought pop into his head early on in the screening. To you gents we say, heh heh heh.
Sorry folks, it's that time of year and we're already exhausted <g>
But it wasn't Black Swan that tired us out. This is an adult film that ultimately is as rewarding as, perhaps, having all that classical stuff in your background. The story is deep. The viewing will be difficult. And that being said . . .
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Black Swan, he would have paid . . .
Black Swan is as tough a sit as it is rewarding. In this case we agree with other online critics -- we do talk sometimes -- that the film should be seen on the big screen. Not the teevee.
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