Being alone in a dark empty room sparks fear because the imagination involuntarily fills in that space with the inspiration of our inner-darkness. In Black Swan, the audience gets the exhilarating opportunity to witness the world from within the stunningly chaotic mind of Nina, a veteran Ballerina striving for perfection, as we are exposed to what her imagination creates. Nina’s imagination acts as the god of her own world and she imagines a stunning, personal hell.
Director Darren Aronofsky, is one of the finest filmmakers of our generation, and he adds another truly masterful entry with Black Swan. This film is a wonderful blending of three stories: the ballet competition, the mother living through her child, and the descent into madness. These three stories are different angles of Nina’s life, and all build the momentum to a wonderful flourish. Aronofsky’s direction is crisp and frantic, the soundtrack is hauntingly alluring, and Natalie Portman gives a beast of a performance.
At times, the camera swoops and twirls from the point of view of the ballerinas, putting us in their shoes. Other times, it slows down on the beauty that we miss in real time, and even the horror. For example, the use of slow motion on a close-up of the straining feet of Nina twirling. Aronofsky puts us in the shoes of Nina to make us feel the fire of being a competitive ballerina, and later on to show us the nightmare of obsession.
Across the board, the parts are acted to perfection: the underrated Vincent Cassel as the pompous, but masterful, director Thomas, Mila Kunis as the erotically graceful Lily, and the wonderful Barbara Hershey as Erica, Nina’s mother. At the center of it all is the astonishing performance by Natalie Portman as Nina. Nina fluctuates from fragile, to seductive, to insane, to innocent, to repressed, and back again. Portman hits every note of her performance with the exacting perfection that her character strives for. Aronofsky has a special way to bring his lead actors to a point where they are better than their best, and this is exactly what happens in Black Swan.
The film is rooted in the theme of the dangerous of obsession with perfection. Yes, it’s set in the world of ballet, but it could have been anything. Our need to compete can grow into a dangerous chase for a perfection that kills. It makes you wonder what Aronofsky would do with a project such as a Michael Jordan bio-pic.
Aronofsky pulls from the inspiration of David Lynch and David Cronenberg, but he is always speaking with his own voice. He displays a beautiful hell made of mirrors from the perspective of an overly-obsessive, dying soul with vicious tenacity, producing an experience that is a novel intoxication.
Some may not enjoy the aggressiveness of the direction, the darkness of it all or might skip it because it’s an art-house film–oh well.
There are some CGI parts that did bug me, most notably the transformation in the final act where Portman slightly looks like X-Men’s Mystique; however, this is a very minor complaint if it could be called one at all.
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