Finally, now that winter is upon us, it is time for Hollywood to start releasing their serious, Oscar-contender films, after a summer of blockbuster action movies and other lighter fare. I probably enjoy watching stuff blow up as much as the average woman (but certainly not as much as the average male), but winter is definitely my favorite season for cinema. My "must-see" list is growing longer by the day, but this weekend I carved some time out of a busy weekend schedule to see my first movie of Oscar season: Black Swan.
I feel like I've been a fan of Natalie Portman's for ages, but I think her role in Garden State, one of my favorite movies, was what really endeared her to me. Ever since, I've tried to either see her work while it's still in theaters, or I've added it to my seemingly interminable Netflix queue. Hence, I saw the previews for Black Swan, I knew right away that I wanted to see it, even though the atmospheric clues contained in the trailer indicated that the film was much scarier than my typical taste. I try to stay very, very far away from horror films. I might like a good cry from a movie, but I have enough anxiety problems without having to seek out extra sources of fear in my life. A suspenseful murder mystery is about as much as I can handle.
Black Swan was indeed a bit of a horror film, but the horror was more of a psychological bent than a traditional slasher film. Through much of the film, it was difficult to tell what was real and what was imagined, and most of the truly frightening moments came from either real or imagined mutilations of the main character's body. I don't know that I ever really frightened by the film, but there were definitely moments when I found myself disturbed by the images on the screen. Even though many of these moments were unpleasant to see, I still came away from the film impressed by the cinematography and the director's use of hand-held video cameras. The movie was visually stunning, even if it was sometimes hard to look.
I was similarly impressed by Portman's performance in Black Swan. The role was definitely darker than many she's taken in the past, and I was glad to see her stretching herself as an actress. Although I am hardly a fan of the ballet, to an untrained eye, Portman did a laudable job imitating the work for which ballerinas spend a lifetime in training. She seemed far more convincing than many other actresses who have attempted to tackle ballerina roles in the past (see Julia Stiles in Save the Last Dance.) I wouldn't be surprised at all to see her garner an Oscar nomination for her work in this film.
Overall, although I was impressed with Black Swan and I would pronounce it a good movie worth the time and expense of seeing it, I'm still not sure if I actually enjoyed it. I think it is easier for me to appreciate it for its artistic merits. After all, after leaving the theater and taking the time to digest what I had seen, I still can't be entirely sure what happened during the film, as the main character's perceptions clearly couldn't be trusted, due to her mental illness. Her story was compelling and dynamic, but ultimately murky. If you have the mental energy this holiday season to tease out the meaning of the plot, then by all means, head to the theaters to catch Black Swan, but if the Christmas season has you frazzled, you might be better off at home with a DVD of something from the summer...