Review of Black Swan (Dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2010):
2010’s ‘Swan’ song opens with confidence and doesn’t let up for the next 108 minutes (tight and tidy). It feels as though everything Aronofsky created beforehand is merely a study for what powerfully comes together in the form of Black Swan.
Despite the highfalutin ballet world, there are distinct similarities to The Wrestler (which won’t be discussed for fear of spoiling the plot) and the trippy hallucinogenic qualities of Ellen Barkin’s downfall in Requiem for a Dream (but with brakes applied). Imagine if Repulsion-era Roman Polanksi gave birth to David Cronenberg’s ‘body horror’ love child and you’re getting close to this test tube baby. The smattering of horror moments had me praying to the cinema god that Aronofsky will turn his gaze to the horror genre at some stage.
If Natalie Portman never plays another role, she can die a happy woman. Her embodiment of the fragile Nina Sayers is everything the tour-de-force cliché represents. Aronofsky wedges that camera firmly in her face and doesn’t let up, even in the most intimate of circumstances or when she’s whirling around the dancefloor in a heady spin. Hers is a character of extremes – fragile, but saddled with such steely determination she is willing to push herself to the brink to play the much-coveted White Swan/Black Swan in the ballet Swan Lake.
The narrative is very straightforward – simple perfection. As her artistic director (played by Vincent Cassel) asks, you can perform the White Swan, but can you perform her evil twin, the Black Swan? And that’s the basis of the whole film. Flying across extremes, it shows the contrasts of a world in which nothing is suffice except perfection. Her body is painfully thin, but she performs with massive physical potential. She has scored the role of a lifetime, yet she is intensely unhappy. She is often called “sweet”, but she has a fire in her belly that will consume her entire being, as well as that of the competition.
Portman is not the only actor making this film so brilliant. She keeps good company with the likes of Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey and TV’s That ’70s Show Mila Kunis who is formidable as Lily. However, they are merely moons in Portman’s orbit. I confess, I have a soft spot for dance films (The Red Shoes… ah!) and also psychological thrillers that can visually represent the inner workings of a person’s mind. But Black Swan is more than that. Yes, in case you haven’t gathered, it’s perfect.
Black Swan is in cinemas (Australia) from 20th January 2011