Movie Review #731
Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay by Mark Heyman and Andrés Heinz and John McLaughlin. (Story: Andrés Heinz.) Produced by Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, and Brian Oliver for Protozoa Pictures and Phoenix Pictures, presented by Fox Searchlight Pictures, made in association with Cross Creek Pictures and Dune Entertainment. Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Ksenia Solo, Kristina Anapau, Janet Montgomery, Sergio Torrado, Mark Margolis, Tina Sloan, and Stanley B. Herman. Premiered at Venice Film Festival on September 1, 2010; and in New York City, New York on November 30, 2010. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Fox Searchlight Pictures in limited release in the USA on December 3, 2010; and in wide release on December 17, 2010. Rated R: strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use. Runs 108 minutes.
“Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go.”
“Black Swan” is twistedly, heart-stoppingly original. It’s a tale of desire, power, obsession, and any combination between the three. For every time we take the involuntary chance to blink during the film, director Darren Aronofsky takes two seemingly natural chances to delve further into his psychosis of the protagonist. I can’t put the film any other way than to say it’s brilliant.
I’ll say it again: its approach and accomplishment are both sublimely original. And yet I struggle with the paradox, that it’s also retelling the classic Swan Lake. Nina (Natalie Portman) is anything but happy that she has received the role of the Swan Queen in Chaykovsky’s ballet; she’s more worried about winning, succeeding, attaining perfection in the role. She can’t lose, and making sure she doesn’t involves frequent paranoia, devastation, and ultimately, self-destruction. It’s no accident that the story’s journey through the mind, in fact, parallels the tale of Swan Lake.
The ballet Swan Lake ends with the White Swan leaping off a cliff to her death, and it is no spoiler to say that the protagonist in “Black Swan” meets her end the same way. Darren Aronofsky has made self-destruction a staple to his catalog of directed films. He’s also made character a staple, but never like this. We’re really put into Nina’s head in “Black Swan”. Natalie Portman delivers an absolute tour de force performance here. Between her performance and the masterful cinematography of Matthew Libatique, the film’s most engaging game is in letting us guess what’s real and what’s just in the mind. Where this opus most succeeds, though, is in its distance from reality.
“Black Swan” is a lurid, bizarre, and hypnotic experience. Its dark, demented psychodrama vastly outweighs “The Wrestler”, Aronofsky’s 2008 film to which it is a companion piece. Indeed both films look at all the dangers that surround human nature’s greatest fantasy (perfection), but in comparison, “The Wrestler” only glanced at the concept.
BLACK SWAN IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.