Posted on 1/22/11 12:46 AM
An amalgamation of all of Aronofsky's past films and talents, "Black Swan" is a very intense, visceral experience with an incredible performance from Natalie Portman and with superb direction.
The film follows the decay and blossom of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) as she tries out for the role of the Swan Queen in a theater production of Swan Lake. The plot line of Swan Lake concerns a White Swan and a Black White, like the Yin and Yang of a being. The White Swan is obsessed with perfection while the Black Swan is the embodiment of seduction and chaos.
This is echoed between Nina and new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis). Nina is graceful, completely in control and, quite possibly, the best dancer in her production. Lily is chaotic, loose and seductive. Striving to get the role, Nina begins to drive herself insane.
Nina somehow lands the part and this sends the former star, Beth (Winona Ryder), over the edge. After Beth makes an attempt to take her own life, Nina begins to descend into a state of entropy where the lines of reality are blurred and her actions become darker and darker.
The film showcases this with twisted direction and an almost exclusive use of close-up shots. Everything comes off with a fervent energy and really draws you into the action, especially when nothing is going on.
The selected use of soundtrack further drivers home the inner torment of Nina as the sounds are warped and almost sound backwards. The wonderful CGI implementation also feels natural and dark, further cementing the contorted core of the movie.
The film brings up some very intriguing parallels to Swan Lake, itself. You can make connections between Nina's life and what is occurring in the play and it really keeps you guessing at all times. The ending may be predictable, but it's a blast to see an almost horror movie style presentation.
Previous Aronofsky films have had this kind of dark plotline before (just look at "Pi" or "Requiem for a Dream"), but they never truly tried to explain what made the character tick. It's wonderful to see how ballet and that want/need to be accepted can push someone off a figurative mountain.
Portman's portrayal needs to be seen to be believed. While Portman never became a typecast actress, her roles before never truly allowed her much room to showcase all her talents. Yeah she's been edgy, sexy and passionate, but never all at once. She even becomes the opposite of her character at points and it's completely believable and instinctive.
Interestingly enough, Mila Kunis is the exact opposite. While her talents are put to good use, her role is almost the exact same of what she's portrayed in the past. The loose woman looking for fast times and fun. I suppose do what you're good at and Kunis is always eye catching, so it does work very well off of Portman's madness.
Winona Ryder as the old talent is good, if minimal. Barbara Hershey as the control freak mom does well and showcases a nice buffer to Nina's behavior. Vincent Cassel definitely exudes power and control with some great facial expressions.
What works best, though, is just how well edited the film is. As I said, the CGI is very clean and implemented in a natural way and it never seems like too much. While violent in thought, the gore factor isn't too extreme and it works to psychologically frighten you.
What isn't so great is the transformation into the Black Swan. I understand that the pressure of the production is turning Nina against herself, but she still isn't presented as an ugly person. She gets wasted one time and has some sex; that's not that dark.
Regardless, the film takes a very deep and bleak look at fame and obsession and is well worth your time. That is uses some superb film making techniques and has what is possibly Portman's penultimate performance doesn't hurt either.