Artsy film director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler) just released the trailer Black Swan, a psychological thriller where veteran ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) competes against newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) to play the lead in Swan Lake. Apparently Portman goes looney and the women make out like wild geese somewhere in the process. But since the film doesn’t come out until December, we thought we’d share five other artistic lesbian thrillers that’ll keep you (in)sane until then.
Now before we begin, here’s a little more about Black Swan for those of you hungry for more fowl play:
Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side – a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.
Oooo… creepy. Kinda like Showgirls meets The Company.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?: A nameless young woman (Joan Fontaine) meets, falls in love with, and soon marries a suicidal widower Maximillian de Winter (Laurence Olivier) only to find herself living at the massive Manderlay estate in the shadow of his deceased wife Rebecca. The domineering head housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) intimidates the newlywed bride with constant reminders of Rebecca’s gloriousness. Will the new Mrs. de Winter wither in her predecessor’s shadow or discover the terrible secret keeping her memory alive?
WHAT MAKES IT “ARTY”?: C’mon, it’s Hitchcock! The black and white film renders the vast interior of Manderlay as a menacing atmosphere always threatening to swallow the diminutive Mrs. de Winter. Every line betrays its speaker’s mental state, and an undercurrent of shock belies each performance carrying with it a dark undertone implicating everyone in the larger mystery of Rebecca’s greatness.
WHERE THE LESBIANS AT?: Something is definitely going on between Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers. And what of flamboyant “cousin Jack” who only seems to stop by when Mr. de Winter is away? Amazingly, the 1938 novel by female horror writer Daphne du Maurier had no lesbian undertones; Hitchcock added them to create even more tension and menace. Critics continue to debate whether his ending makes Rebecca a villain or a victim.
Les Diaboliques (1954)
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?: Christina (Véra Clouzot), the wife of physically and emotionally abusive headmaster Michel (Paul Meurisse), conspires with fellow teacher Nicole (Simone Signoret) to kill the tyrannical man. But when their drowning victim turns up missing and the suit he died in returns to the school, the women begin suspecting who is to blame.
WHAT MAKES IT “ARTY”?: First off, it’s French and everything they touch turns to art. The immediate box office success had 3,674,380 viewings in France alone. Hitchcock barely missed purchasing the rights to the nerve-jangling script which makes horror fodder of everyday objects like typewriters, bathtubs, telephones, and dry cleaning.
WHERE THE LESBIANS AT?: Strangely, both the 1954 film and its lame 1996 Hollywood remake both exclude the overt lesbian content featured in the original novel, but undercurrents still remain. Watch for subtle touches and reassurances between the women as their shared secret unravels. In the 1996 remake, Sharon Stone threatens to tell police that she and her accomplice are lovers.
Heavenly Creatures (1994)
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?: When shy working-class Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskie) meets affluent outspoken Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet) they become fast friends by escaping into the fantasy kingdom of Borovnia. But when their parents threaten to end their “unhealthy” friendship, Pauline and Juliet devise a dastardly plan that could tear them both apart.
WHAT MAKES IT “ARTY”?: Before Heavenly Creatures director Peter Jackson had only directed “splatter films” like the gory Muppet Show spoof Meet the Feebles. But Heavenly Creatures marked a change for him in both style and tone. He interviewed New Zealanders who knew the real-life Parker and Hulme and used excerpts of Parker’s diary in the actual screenplay. The special effects team also made 70 full-sized latex costumes to for scenes depicting the plasticine inhabitants of Borovnia.
WHERE THE LESBIANS AT?: As Pauline and Juliet grow attached to each other, they develop an intense romantic relationship. The film questions whether they or the world at large are more insane. But while researching the project, Jackson found the newspaper accounts of the pair too fixated on lesbianism and insanity. He decided to concentrate instead on their blossoming friendship rather than their sensationalized public trial.
The Addiction (1995)
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?: NYU philosophy grad student Kathleen (Lili Taylor) gets attacked by an alluring female vampire and gradually becomes a misanthropic night owl who blames victims for not overpowering their attackers. Troubled yet empowered by her new worldview, Kathy cannot shake the hunger and despair now tearing at her soul, threatening to overcome everything she once loved and believed.
WHAT MAKES IT “ARTY”?: Lili Taylor is a indie film badass. If you haven’t seen her as Valerie Solanas in I Shot Andy Warhol, you’re missing out in one of the tour de force performances of the decade. Furthermore, director Abel Ferrara’s heady contribution to the vampiric genre breaks new ground by drawing parallels between the mythic parasites and modern day predators of every stripe including drug addicts, apathetic intellectuals, war hawks, and everyday consumers.
WHERE THE LESBIANS AT?: Even though there’s no explicit lesbian sex, there’s scene after scene of women overpowering each other and then asking why they didn’t resist — a strange commentary on rape or lesbian desire? Draw your own conclusions, but be sure to also stick around for the blockbusting ending — it’s jaw-droppingly awesome.
Mulholland Drive – 2001
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?: When a hit job on Mulholland Drive ends in an unexpected car crash, amnesiac Rita (Laura Elena Harring) mindlessly wanders into Betty’s (Naomi Watts) apartment with a purse full of cash, a locked box (tee-hee), and no memory of her past. Together, they play Nancy Drew across a dream-like Hollywood landscape and discover why they’re so inexorably drawn to one another.
WHAT MAKES IT “ARTY”?: Lynch’s beautiful thriller has all the makings of a modern noir — femme fatales with ill-gotten gain, police chasing after a mystery woman, a shadowy organization that can shut down Hollywood with a single order. Yet his vision plays out like a surreal dream with seemingly random vignettes connected by recurring caricatures, key symbols, and cryptic lines of dialogue. In trying to figure it all out, the viewer becomes a detective too.
WHERE THE LESBIANS AT?: Without spoiling anything, Betty and Rita’s curiosity and helpfulness culminate in a tender nighttime encounter that is as moving as it is sensuous. Reviewers have been raving about it for some time now.