Friday, January 7, 2011

The Greatest Comedy of Our Time: Black Swan

First of all, let me just say that everything you have heard about Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan is true, unless any of the things you have heard are said without irony. The truth is, Black Swan isn't a great movie, if taken as a 100% serious thriller. In fact, it's a down-right terrible movie. But I refuse to believe that such a celebrated director and top-notch cast worked on this film, delivering lines like, "Everything she does comes from some dark impulse within her," without having some kind of out-of-body experience where they're hovering over themselves, looking down as they realize that they're in a really, really shitty movie. Instead, I choose to believe that everyone involved in this movie, from the producer to the director to the actors and the craft services people, were in on the biggest movie-related prank of all time.
I'm not going to cut for spoilers, because you've probably heard all the details by now, spewed out by an ecstatic press that has embraced Black Swan as a tour-de-force. Yes, there is a big ole lesbian sex scene. Yes, Natalie Portman's toenail totally splits in a bloody mess. All the sex and blood surprises of Black Swan have already been spoiled. What you probably haven't heard are the subtle-as-a-sledge-hammer moments where Nina (Natalie Portman) is shown vomitting in a public toilet, only to return home to find that her mother (Barbara Hershey) has bought a huge pink cake to celebrate Nina's casting as the Swan Queen in a new production of Swan Lake. Or the many times that Nina looks at rival ballerina Lily (Mila Kunis) only to find that Lily's face has been replaced with her own.
But there was a particularly telling moment, the one in which I realized that no one involved with the production could have possibly been taking it seriously: Beth, a formerly celebrated ballerina played by Winona Ryder, looks at Nina and says, like some giant wink to the audience, "You stole my things?"
How could anyone, the casting director, the writer, the director, Winona fucking Ryder, assume that line would elicit anything other than laughter and disbelief from the audience. Which, by the way, was exactly what happened. A huge, unamimous "HA!" from everyone at our showing.
So, basically there are two ways of looking at this movie. As a prank, a group of very talented professionals seeking to make the absolute worst movie of our time and passing it off as brilliance. Or, as the absolute worst movie of our time.
The second scenario is one of optimism and joy for someone like me. If a movie as terrible as Black Swan can be lauded by critics of the highest caliber, then other creative storytelling types don't have to work as hard anymore. This includes me. As long as Black Swan exists and is praised, I don't have to worry about writing a story that makes sense. I don't have to sit up at night worrying about loose plot threads or whether or not my dialogue is realistic. Black Swan sets a new standard for excellence, and that standard is so low, it could win a limbo competition.
I'm not sure which I like better. But I'm absolutely gleeful about the badness that is Black Swan. It might be my new favorite movie.

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