It took about a half hour after the projector shut off for me to pick my jaw up off the ground after watching Black Swan. Finally, I mused, a movie worth seeing. A movie that’s not awash in nonsense hype and diminished returns, but a flick that gets under your skin and rattles around in your head for days after watching it.
Darren Aronofsky has crafted a wonderful and frightening character study of Nina (Natalie Portman, in a role I hope gets her many shiny metal statues) a ballerina who’s suddenly thrust to the lead of the her ballet company’s production of Swan Lake. Jealousy from the other ballerinas, including Mila Kunis’ Lily, becomes just one of the many problems as the pressures begin building in Nina’s mind. Can she achieve what she needs to so that she can embrace the “Black Swan”? Is Vincent Cassel, the head of the ballet company, just trying to get in her pants or does he believe she’s a great dancer?
And most important, will there be a hot Portman-Kunis make out session, at least?
(The answer to the last question is yes).
Portman is utterly fearless in her portrayal of this girl; her determination, her drive, her paranoia (which might be unwarranted). The strained stage-mom relationship she has with her mother, (wonderfully played by Barbara Hershey) seems familiar, but it’s the singer, not the song, and these two duet just fine. Lots of talk will be devoted to her weight loss, or the aforementioned Kunis make out session, but there’s no denying that Portman has fulfilled a promise she made way back when she blew our minds as young Mathilda.
Aronofsky has finally found an appropriate blend of his styles and talents. It has the subtle fly-on-the-wall style of The Wrestler mixed with the intensity of Requiem For A Dream. On paper, that sounds like ti could be terrible, but he pulls it off like a pro. He invokes styles and filmmakers from the past, everyone from Polanski’s Repulsion and Argento’s giallo work, to some of the grandiose DePalma efforts, and with a few nice Cronenberg-ian touches. Again, it sounds like a difficult blend to keep consistent, and yet, he pulls it off, delivering an unparalleled entertainment.
It helps that Aronofsky has solid collaborators. His usual DP Matthew Libatique is back, and produces some gorgeous shots. Most of them involve mirrors, and I have no idea how some of these shots are pulled off, even with digital trickery. The sound design is particularly choice, see this film in the best sounding theater you can. And Clint Mansell… I defy you to name a better composer working today. His interpretation of the Swan Lake cues are pitch perfect, quite rousing. Almost brought me to tears.
I can’t recommend Black Swan enough. It’s well worth your time, and don’t be surprised if you can’t shake it out of your head for a few days later. Or look at nail scissors the same way again.