by Catherine L. Tully
Better late than never–right?
It has taken me a long while to get around to doing this review. I was hesitant about watching this movie–not sure if I wanted to see what the depiction was of the ballet world. Somehow I knew it would fall short, and for me it did.
As I had heard, the movie rang true to overarching stereotypes of ballet dancers and what goes on behind the scenes, and I found myself disappointed that it didn’t try a little harder to stretch beyond the typical. After all, not every director is “grabby”, not every retiring ballerina is morose and suicidal, and not every dance mom is overbearing. It would have been nice to depart a bit from these images and strive to create real characters with dimension rather than falling back on old, tired images of these roles. Here, the director played it safe, but, admittedly, it is difficult subject matter to tackle. Still, it would have been nice to have had more range.
The behind-the-scenes look into the ballet world was again somewhat typical, but served as a decent bit of background for those who may not be aware of what goes on in a dance company. Many dancers can relate to things such as the cramped physical therapy office, the nerves as everyone checks the board for their name when ballets are posted and the hush that comes over a room when the director appears.
I loved the scene where you get to see how pointe shoes are “worked” and broken in and the realism of the dancers sitting around in the hallway with their ballet bags. How true, how true. Still, it would have been wonderful to have a little more of that–I think it would have helped explain dancers in a way that would have helped make sense of things better in the movie. After all, there is a lot more to the life of a ballet dancer than people may realize.
Nina, the main character, is driven in a way that pretty much drives her mad. I get that. But her character is also very fragile–I would argue too fragile to be at that level in ballet. There is an inner strength one needs to have to dance that type of role which was simply missing. To me, it made for a mix that just didn’t make sense. Perhaps this pairing is needed to make for a character that we see losing touch with reality, but it was hard for me to buy into.
I will say that Natalie Portman did manage to convince me that she was indeed frigid and naieve, but the push/pull in her dancing white swan and black swan was something I was not able to hone in on–until the scene where she takes the stage as the black swan.
To me, this scene was the movie’s triumph by far. The camera work, the facial expressions – even the choreography – all came together seamlessly. The transformation was at once powerful and intense, especially as she came offstage and circled around for her next entrance – I was spellbound for this one brief time in the movie, and from here out I thought it worked quite well. Portman did a lovely job of portraying a ballerina I thought–and although it was obvious this was from the waist up, it still worked for me. Pretty arms and lovely épaulement, which is an enormous challenge.
I have to say that I’m glad I finally did see the movie. While I can’t give it two thumbs up in terms of a dance movie, I do think that the conversation and controversy that it has caused in its wake are a good thing. At least people are talking about dance–and having some pretty intelligent conversations about it. And that’s something I like to see.
What did you think about this movie?