Sunday, December 5, 2010
BLACK SWAN (DARREN ARONOFSKY, 2010)
Let me preface this by saying that in the year 2010, there was no other film that I anticipated more than Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. I eagerly awaited the latest efforts from both Martin Scorsese and David Fincher, and I eagerly await Sofia Coppola’s new film as well as the Javier Bardem-starring film, Buitiful. It is Black Swan, however, that I have awaited since word was released that it would be made. Aronofsky, the visceral and thoughtful director of Pi, Requiem for a Dream and 2008’s The Wrestler, directs Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in a psychological thriller about a pair of ballerina’s who develop a strange relationship while performing together in a production of Swan Lake.
Natalie Portman is flawless in her role as Nina, a shy, repressed girl who still lives with her mother even though she is an adult. At first, it’s hard to buy her as such a repressed girl when she possesses so much natural beauty and charm. But Portman does a marvelous job with the character and I would not be surprised at all if, come awards season, she was the one female left standing among the best of the year. Vincent Cassel does a good job as her controlling, and fiery director, trying desperately to unleash the inner emotions that lie beneath Nina’s hard shell. That, essentially, is what the movie feeds on: Emotion. And lots of it. The film features so much emotion and feeling packed into a 108 minutes, that by the end, you feel exhausted, like you’ve just endured a 108 minute roller coaster ride. The musical score, composed by longtime Aronofsky collaborator Clint Mansell, is a feast for the ears and should receive high praise for illuminating the tragedy of the story.
It was a lot scarier than I thought it would be. It reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, with Natalie Portman being a stand-in for the Jack Nicholson character. A person who is on the brink of genius, slowly losing her mind, and eventually seeing, feeling, and experiencing things that aren’t there. The one difference, is that in The Shining, we buy into it and for a moment begin to believe in the supernatural and that it is possible to speak to the dead. In Black Swan, however, I found it hard to believe that some of the bizarre occurrences were really possible.
Indeed, Black Swan feels like a film from another time and generation. The movie evokes memories of classic films such as The Red Shoes and Ingmar Bergman's 1960s mind-bender Persona. Another life-imitating-art tale, The Red Shoes centered on a young dancer who’s life begins to mimic the story of the production she is performing in. Released all the way back in 1948, this British film, in vivid Technicolor, certainly must have served as an inspiration to the filmmakers.
The supporting cast of Black Swan is another big factor in the success of the film. In addition to Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey also exhibits some of the form that made her a star in the 1980s. Mila Kunis does a fine job as well as a sexy and dark rival to Natalie Portman’s Nina. Even Winona Ryder makes a small but memorable appearance. Aronofsky’s direction is finely tuned, like that of a skilled and seasoned director. The story did take some odd twists and turns that ultimately did not satisfy. I left the film astounded, like I had just stepped out of an opera. But I also left wanting more. More from the story, more from the characters, more from the filmmakers. A unique, and brave film it is. But a true masterwork, which it tries so hard to be, it is not.