Since it’s premiere in September at the Venice Film Festival, Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan has been generating a kind of familiar buzz reminiscent of his previous effort, The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke. Touted as being companion films to each other, both movies feature protagonists as athletes/artists trying to achieve perfection at the expense of their own health, both physical and mental. Though there are many similarities drawn between the two films, Rourke’s character is at the end of his road, while Natalie Portman as Nina has her whole career ahead of her. Both films are intense psychological character studies, but what sets them apart is the frightening way that Black Swan dives into absolute terror and madness. Make no mistake, this is a horror flick. Did I mention that it’s about ballet?
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) strives for perfection as a ballerina. Although technically precise in her dancing, she lacks the ability to find the real passion in her art. When the New York ballet company she is apart of falls under hard times, director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to produce a modern take on the famous Swan Lake. Nina is chosen to portray the Swan Queen which requires her to take on the roles of both the White Swan and the Black Swan. While already possessing the innocent, virginal qualities that would make her perfect as the White Swan, Nina struggles with finding the ability to “lose herself” and “let go” as the seductively dark Black Swan. Having just replaced the company’s original prima ballerina Beth (Winona Ryder in a bit of ironically cruel but highly effective casting), and facing competition from new dancer/doppelganger Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina will begin the journey into the realm of terror and madness and we, the audience are coming along for the ride.
Nina’s obsessive need to achieve perfection requires her to embody the roles and the story of Swan Lake, LITERALLY becoming both the White and Black Swans. The movie in itself is an obvious take on the famous ballet. Natalie Portman gives us the performance of her career and will no doubt take home the Oscar. One can imagine that the making of this film uncannily mirrors that of the story. Vincent Cassel’s role of the smarmy director, and his excruciating demands placed on Nina, could have been what it was like for Aronofsky directing Portman.
Cinematography and editing are top notch. The film is excellently paced and clocks in at just under 110 minutes, which is refreshing. Aronofsky’s long-time collaborator Clint Mansell composes (as usual) an eerie score that uses elements of Tchaikovsky‘s original music to great effect.
Black Swan is as visceral an experience as can be expected of the auteur that brought us Requiem For a Dream and Pi. Aronofsky directs films that are always enthralling, and his latest is no exception. There are cringe-worthy elements of “body horor” here. It feels like watching classic Cronenberg at times. It’s difficult to take your eyes off the screen despite the movie having a direct gateway into our nightmares. I could go on for pages about this film, but I feel that would be a disservice to the experience. Black Swan is best to watch cold and fresh. I feel that I’ve already spoiled too much in simply writing this review.
I’m reminded of my first true love; film-making. With Black Swan, I think I’m falling in love again.