As part of a marital negotiation (hint: I lost), I saw Black Swan a few weeks ago. Everyone else has already written about it, but there is something about this alleged ballet movie that struck me that I have not seen mentioned.
It is the absence of the prima ballerina, or, if you go whole hog, prima ballerina assoluta. Natalie Portman, whose popularity and reputation are an absolute mystery to me, can do OK playing what she seems to be in real life: an anxious, hard-working teacher's pet. But not much more than that.
Primas work hard, but they are paranoiac rather than anxious, and their real genius is for projecting their own personality and suppressing yours. Primas are brilliant, infuriating, high-maintenance, charismatic, sexy, and dangerous. M. Portman is none of these things, and a ballet movie without a prima lacks a power source.
The movie sets up a false dichotomy: White Swan vs. Black Swan. It implies that mere technical accuracy is necessary to play the White Swan, whereas you need real passion for the Black Swan, passion you can acquire by getting high, having anonymous sex, yelling at your mother, throwing your "Symbol of Immaturity"-brand stuffed animals away, and then losing your mind in some indeterminate way. If you think convincingly playing the unnattainable object of passionate love is a purely technical problem, stick with clog dancing. Portman as Nina Sayers couldn't succeed at either.
Just for the record, I don't think Winona Ryder did much better as the prima incumbent. Primas on the skids can really do some damage--they have nothing to lose, but still have the ability to punch your heart out of your ribcage with their toe shoes. Ryder wasn't dangerous, she was just sloppy.
Darren Aranofsky's previous movie, The Wrestler, did have a prima: Mickey Rourke. Wrecked, powerful, unreliable, but a performer to the end, with a body as tortured and deformed as any ballerina's. Plus you got to see Marisa Tomei, who has more sex appeal in her pinkie fingernail than Portman has in her entire resume-with-attached-transcripts. Professional wrestling and ballet have more in common than you might think, a connection worth examining, but Aranofsky has gone back to that well once too often.
Now, oh joy, there seems to be a plethora of Portman vehicles in theaters, an index of our fallen age (Black Swan will be unwatchable only a year or two from now, and no one will understand why it was successful). Having given in on BS, I am safe from them.