Black Swan (2010): ***½
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
I went in to Black Swan expecting it to be a drama about the
trials and tribulations of ballet dancer Nina (played by Natalie Portman)
with some dark, psychological thriller undertones. What I did not expect
was for the movie to be basically a full-blown body-horror movie with
a surprising amount of gore in it.
Aronofsky does a masterful job of filming seemingly normal, everyday
things but making them feel wrong. There’s something wrong with
the way Nina interacts with her mother. There’s something wrong
with the way the ballet director interacts with her. There’s something
wrong with the world through which she walks. And then small bits start
happening--or do they?--that make you realize there’s something
wrong with Nina.
Portman’s Nina is frustrating. She is so absolutely terrified of
something--of disappointing her mother and director perhaps?--that she
has honed her technique to be absolutely flawless, but that same terror
of failure absolutely cripples her; she is unable to dance with any feeling
or passion whatsoever. There’s a sequence where Nina is practicing
being the seductive Black Swan of Swan Lake. She’s supposed
to seduce the prince. It’s horrible; she is stiff and mannered and
completely unbelievable in the role. In frustration the Director asks
the male dancer, “Honestly, would you f*** that girl?” She
can’t stop apologizing. But there’s something inside of her,
a darkness that is threatening to bubble to the surface. Perhaps literally.
Portman gives a great performance as the sheltered, shy Nina, watching
in horror and fascination at her own transformations, and I’m not
surprised to see her being nominated for several awards.
Nina’s mind isn’t the only thing to transform--her body undergoes
startling and disturbing changes throughout the course of the movie, and
the makeup and special effects are truly remarkable, climaxing in an absolutely
thrilling and unbelievable sequence towards the end of the film that actually
made me gasp and say, “Wow!” out loud. It is one of the most
remarkable single sequences I’ve seen in a film in quite a while.
In a strange way this movie is a perfect companion piece to Aranofsky’s
previous film, The Wrestler. Both are about people who obsessively try
to master physical performances to the detriment of all else in their
lives. In the case of The Wrestler, it's his body that betrays him. In
Black Swan it's her mind. Aranofsky uses similar camerawork and
filming styles to give both films a gritty realism. I especially love
his technique of placing a camera directly behind his characters’
heads and following them as they walk through their worlds. It’s
an incredibly effective way to introduce a setting and the characters’
places within it.
Black Swan is a very well-made movie, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Its
realistic, almost documentary-style filming grounds the heightened melodrama
and fantastical elements into reality. I know it’s a pretty divisive
film. People tend to either think it’s great or it’s absolutely
ridiculous. It worked for me.