Small appendages and BLACK SWAN

Ouch. I’ve never spent so much time in a film, focused upon – literally – the leathery skin of cuticles, tough toes, and fleshy ear lobes from which earrings go on and off, on and off. Yep, Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN is all fingers fingers toes toes, abused in such new and uncomfortable ways that you’ll vow to never use a pair of nail scissors again. EVER. And you thought the movies didn’t have the power to change your life! Once again, and with a different DP (THE WRESTLER = Maryse Alberti and BLACK SWAN = Matthew Libatuque), Aronofsky is (literally) following behind a struggling performer, this one’s insecurities expressed as meek, worried perfectionism as opposed to Micky Rourke’s loud bravado. But unlike THE WRESTLER, BLACK SWAN is a horror film, really, and the most beautiful horror film to emerge in a good long time. True to form, Aronofsky keeps his protagonist’s head squarely in the middle of the frame as he trails behind troubled Nina (Natalie Portman), her bun bobbing along top her emaciated frame.

The brilliance of this film? It’s ability to sustain both stock storytelling generalities and unique, autuerist details simultaneously, as graceful as a pirouette. The film is absolutely general in its characterizations (frigid good girl, controlling mother, sexist boss) but absolutely specific in terms of its detailing (said good girl tries to masturbate in the presence of giant stuffed bunny, for instance). General in terms of its negotiation with gender (women must choose between being virgin or whore, men get to run everything) but specific in terms of the men and women’s performances who occupy those types (check Portman, Cassel, Kunis, Hershey). General, even, in terms of aspects of its premise (New York dancer pursues dream) but absolutely specific in terms of creating spaces around it (who has seen New York look this sparely pink or black, and who has been inside of a dancer’s manic swirl?). And, by giving us so many female leads, Aronofsky has complicated gender in the movies, in a way … he does for the nail-scissors-and-women what generations of filmmakers have done for the razor-and-men – the archetypal shaving-his-face scene gets a twist here, with plenty of petite appendages at risk. And any filmmaker who can get my 20-something male students salivating to see a film about … ballet? Subversive and sublime.