Darren Aronofsky. What a weird guy.
As a director, not one of his films could be considered conventional. Be it a mentally disturbed mathematician, a group of heroin addicts, or a man trying to save his spouse from death, he always takes fascinating topics and tackles them in exciting ways.
Continuing in a recurring theme of unconventional artists in his films, Aronofsky’s latest film, “Black Swan”, is the story of a ballet dancer, Nina, who is cast as the Swan Queen in her troupe’s latest production of “Swan Lake”. The trick is, the Swan Queen is supposed to have two split personalities: A calculated, elegant one, and a dark, sensual, rugged one. For the role, Nina struggles to find the darker side in her as a performer, but in this search Nina descends into madness, destruction, and in more ways than one, transformation.
Here’s some hyperbole for you guys: Natalie Portman’s role in this film as Nina Sayers is one of the greatest screen performances I have ever seen. There is not a better female performance this year, there probably isn’t a performance better this year. She’s just that good.
Portman immerses herself completely in the (literal) shoes of a ballerina, she reportedly trained for about a year prior to filming and could pass for a professional, at least to my novice eye. But its not just the technical aspects that she nails. Her character Nina undergoes an emotional metamorphosis in this film: Good to bad, pure to unpure, white swan to black swan. I’m unsure whats more impressive: The moral absolutes she exhibits at opposite ends of the movie, or her haunting descent from one to the other. Either way, I cannot stress enough just how damn good she is.
Mila Kunis, in her most dramatic role yet, plays Lilly, both a rival and friend to Nina. I’ll just say she’s vital to the film and leave it at that, as her character is full of surprises. That said, Kunis aces it. Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey both bring a lot of intensity to their roles, as Nina’s jealous colleague and her overbearing mother, respectively, and Vincent Cassel is solid as her sleazy director.
The cast does an incredible job lending the right amount of both realism and theatricality to their roles, in order to let the melodrama run wild but also stay grounded in reality. Because believe me, “Black Swan” is by no means a realistic film. The twists it takes in the final act are ridiculous, perhaps even stupid, and certainly rooted in fantasy. But where with another director it may have been ludicrious, with Aronofsky they’re flawlessly executed.
The film is an emotional powerhouse, that’s for sure. It has a certain atmosphere of terror that never once lets up, and that lets all the dramatic punches hit all the harder. It’s emotionally manipulative for sure, but here’s the thing: You don’t mind, one bit. Because you’ve built a foundation with it, you’ve been sucked into it, you’ve been hooked. Save for the occasional proclamation to my friends beside me (“THIS IS AWESOME!”), I didn’t look away from the screen once. How could I?
Matthew Libatique’s cinematography and Clint Mansell’s score are both superb, but they actually have a really interesting dynamic in this film. The two complement one another in really beautiful yet truly unnerving ways, and Libatique’s work warrants an Oscar for sure.
“Black Swan” is the story of Nina’s strange journey trying to achieve artistic perfection, and by the end of the film she achieves it. But by that time, something wonderful happens. The film itself achieves perfection, in every way that I can imagine. Wondrous, beautiful, haunting, unmissable. A