Single-Malt Movies: Black Swan and Black & White Russians

A lot of people I know didn’t like Black Swan (2010). It had an awkward balance of horror and drama with a lesbian scene thrown in. Well, that’s wrong. Black Swan is one of the most intimate, provocative films I’ve seen in a while, wrapped up in a psychological thriller.  It proposes a shocking duality between the desire to be perfect and the desire to be free; an internal conflict I face daily. As the film deals with the battle between the white swan and the black swan, I’m going to walk you through making one of my favorite drinks: the White Russian, and its evil twin: the Black Russian.

Kahlua, vodka, and cream.

White Russian

  • 50 mL vodka
  • 20 mL coffee liqueur
  • 30 mL cream

Pour coffee liqueur and vodka into an old fashioned glass filled with ice. Float cream on top. Serve.  Note: floating cream on top of anything is much harder than it looks, and I’ve never been able to do it successfully.  Good luck.

Plot: Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a very dedicated and hard-working ballerina with a perfectionist (has-been?) ballerina for a mother.  After a less-than-perfect audition during which she’s distracted by Lily (Mila Kunis), she lands the coveted role of the Swan Queen.  The director of the show (Vincent Cassel) pushes and encourages her to be a bit more in touch with herself.  Nina slowly loses her mind as she falls more and more under the influence of the evil Black Swan.

As I loosely mentioned when reviewing A Clockwork Orange, I love films that focus on the divided mind.  Alexander deLarge had to fight his desire for ultra-violence and his physical aversion to it acquired through the Ludovico technique.  Nina has to embrace both the white swan and the black swan in order to play and fully understand the Swan Queen.  The role demands such perfection from her, and yet she’s pressured to dance naturally and not with controlled movements.

Those aren’t the eyes of someone who hasn’t lost her mind.
Ed. note: Black Swan on Amazon Instant Video

Watching Nina’s descent into the Black Swan is a beautiful process, and Aronofsky pulled it off quite well.  There comes a point when the viewer is just a lost in reality as is Nina.  Did that really just happen?  Huh.  I guess it did.  Wait, there’s no way this can be real ohgodwhat’shappening — and that’s not an uncommon reaction to Aronofsky’s documentation of the descent into madness.  Winona Ryder’s character Beth serves as a creepy picture of what Nina could turn into.  The whole experience is shudder-inducing.

Now that we’ve descended into the realm of the Black Swan, it’s time for another drink.

A White Russian without cream.

Black Russian

  • 50 mL vodka
  • 20 mL coffee liqueur

Pour the ingredients into the old fashioned glass filled with ice cubes. Stir gently.

As you can probably tell, this drink is very similar to the White Russian, but it lacks cream.  Definitely a sipping drink, as all its ingredients are alcohol.  That said, so is a White Russian.  Word from the wise: White Russians may taste like chocolate milk and candy, but that doesn’t mean you should four of them in an hour.  Trust me.

Beyond seeing Portman’s chilling performance and Kunis’ endearingly sensual and relaxed performance, the direction is artistic and engaging.  There are many shots where the camera is following Nina as she walks through the city, and the camera is focused directly on the back of her head; it very much gives the sense of seeing everything through her eyes.  It’s creepy how subtly you find yourself lost in Nina’s point of view.  Even her sex scene with Mina Kunis in filmed subtly.  For a fairly intense sex scene, absolutely no nudity is shown, yet all the actions performed are realistic.  This becomes more of a feat on Aronofsky’s part when you realize the scene didn’t happen at all.  Well done indeed.

I love this movie because it genuinely makes the viewer question what’s real and what’s not real.  For my first few showings, even the ending threw me off.  SPOILERS Did she really kill herself?  Is the show over for good now?  Or is her stabbing herself in the stomach just as realistic as her killing Lily?  The frequency of mind-bending confusion increases exponentially towards the film’s end.  Some people found the surrealism a bit much, but if that’s your thing, I highly recommend this film.

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