Rated “R” for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use
Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.
Directed By: Darren Aronofsky
Written By: Mark Heyman
Staring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, and Winona Ryder
Darren Aronofsky isn’t a prolific filmmaker, but when he does create, he delivers with nothing short of a demented genius. He wowed everyone with “The Wrestler” recently, and now astounded audiences with the acclaimed, “Black Swan”, where Natalie Portman won her best actress Oscar. It was months after the hype and chatter that I settled down for a viewing and the result was utterly mind blowing. Known for strange movies like “Pi”, and destructive character journeys like “Requiem For A Dream”, Black Swan fits impeccably into his unique perspective on the inner psyche of the tormented soul.
Black Swan whisks us into the less than glamorous world of a New York ballerina named Nina, who is trying out for the coveted role in Swan Lake. She comes across as the perfect White Swan, perfect, gentle, and innocent in all her movement. She is compulsive and precise, but when she is forced to portray the sensuous and passionate Black Swan she cannot find it within her sheltered and confined existence. Described as frigid by those around her she is obsessed with her dance, and propelled by her mother a former ballerina. Soon she becomes enamored by her teacher and fascinated by a fellow dancer that seems to be her exact opposite and everything she needs to embrace as the Black Swan. Nina becomes lost in her desire to find her passion and is drawn to her teacher Thomas, but her determination to understand the Black Swan leads her to seek out Lily and the result is twisted, erotic,and absolutely terrifying.
What seems to be most impressive is how subtlety you’re drawn into Nina’s psychosis, and without even knowing it you have become part of her own melodrama. There is some claustrophobic sense the film denotes. You feel stuck with Nina and the world itself seems no larger than the ballet. The awkwardness and the discomfort she feels is entirely tangible and makes for a very unnerving viewing. Even at it’s most insane points where you begin to question if it’s taking things a bit too far, Aronofsky shows all the restraint he lacked in “The Fountain”.
Portman is at her absolute best here. Some of my favorite roles were from her youth in “The Professional” and “Beautiful Girls”, but here she shows exactly how intensely talented she is. There isn’t a great deal of dialogue in the film, and her character Nina mostly speaks through the terror, confusion, and frustration in her eyes, but the one line that really lingered with me and summed her characters motivation throughout was, “I just want to be perfect.” She barely whispered it to her instructor Thomas, but it captures the essence of the entire film. Barbara Hershey playing her mother was nearly unrecognizable as the smothering mother, and Vincent Cassel played the smooth talking megalomaniac with ease against Nina’s neurotic discomfort. Her opposite, the ballerina Lily, played by Mila Kunis was breathtaking and almost demanded as much attention from the viewers as Portman did.
The physicality of Portman is perhaps the most alarming aspect of the film. How she appeared to be so thin and frail I have no idea, but I had to turn away from the television several times and there isn’t much that makes me that uncomfortable. Her physical deterioration mirrors her mental deterioration and is revolting.
Black Swan was intense, disturbing, and exhilarating. You wouldn’t expect a movie about a ballerina gone crazy to resonate so powerfully. It sucks you in slowly and before you know it you are completely engulfed in a world that you may have known nothing about. Darren Aronofsky continues to prove why he’s such a powerful filmmaker, and hopefully this is a sign of more demented goodness heading our way. Portman deserved her Oscar and the film deserved all the positive and twisted notoriety it earned. Black Swan lives up to all it’s expectations.