If anyone had any doubt in their mind, that Darren Aronofsky is a masterful director, it will be completely erased upon viewing his latest film, one that’s nothing short of masterpiece, Black Swan. It’s an erotic thriller; a combination of head-spinning madness and paranoia. While this madness is unpredictable, it’s never random. There’s a cunning in the film that we haven’t seen in anything else released in 2010. And it’s never anything short of breathtaking. It’s clear, from the moment the film begins, Black Swan is never anything but exactly what Aronofsky wanted. And it’s remarkable.
Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a dancer in a fictional New York ballet company. She’s been chosen to play the titular role in the company’s upcoming season, when they’ll be performing the classic Swan Lake. But she’s not an average ballet dancer. She’s heavily doted upon by an overbearing stage mother past her prime (Barbara Hershey). There’s hints of self-mutilation and eating disorders to help cope with the massive amounts of stress her career brings. But more concerning to Nina is Lily (a pleasingly understated Mila Kunis), a perceived nemesis threatening to take away the spotlight. And of course, there’s Beth (Wynona Ryder), a washed up, dangerously unbalanced version of what Nina fears she will ultimately become.
Portman’s performance will undoubtedly receive an Oscar nomination, and will most likely earn her a win. And rightfully so. She’s not only called upon to play the mousy, technically talented ingenue. She is required, like her character in the ballet, to morph into something darker, twisted, and menacing. Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey will most certainly be the unsung heroes of the film, as they’re performances are so pitch perfect, you forget the fact they’re acting. It would be great to see Cassel get some awards nods.
The film, loosely follows the plot of the ballet, a story filled with jealousy, madness and metaphysical portents. Like Tchaikovsky, Aronofsky has takes great care in crafting his narrative. The film is not, however, afraid to descend from the lofty perch ballet keeps in society. And that’s part of the fun: mixing the higher persuits, with the less noble to the downright sleezy. There’s sex, there’s mild drug use and alcohol, and there’s blood. But none if it left up to chance, it’s all calculated, and has a very good reason for showing up.
At first glance, it might be easy to dismiss Black Swan as mindless thriller pulp. But a closer examination will reveal that there’s much, much more than meet the eyes, and this is evidenced very early on. Aronosky has plenty of tricks up his sleeve to keep the jarring atmosphere up. Most pleasing of all them is how he uses the mirror, a ubiquitous facet of ballet life. You know it’s a digital trick, but the fact the cameras aren’t showing up is agitating. Much more so is the fact Nina’s reflection doesn’t always behave as it should, and that New York seems to be filled with disquieting doppelgangers that radiate a certain sinister semblance.
Again, the highest praises must go to Aronofsky. There’s been plenty of rewrites for the script (a script that credits three writers, and another for the story, none of whom are Vladimir Begichev or Vasiliy Geltser), and the film could have been a sloppy mess were it left in less capable hands.. But it’s not. It’s electrifying, and arousing, and shocking. And it’s certainly one of the best films of the year.