“I just want to be perfect,” is a line said by Natalie Portman early on in Black Swan. Her strive for perfection will lead to madness in what ends up being my favorite movie out of 2010.
Darren Aronofsky has had an interesting career. At a courthouse conversation in Telluride, he talked about how he’ll probably never have a big studio picture because the bigwigs and him never really can agree on something. Despite his recent success with The Wrestler, he had a harder time getting funding for Black Swan because of the struggling economy, and what studio is going to fund a movie about a ballerina? Strangely enough, Aronofsky is now reuniting with Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine, quite possibly the biggest Marvel superhero not named Spider-Man.
In my opinion, Aronofsky hasn’t used his true talent in The Fountain and The Wrestler. It’s tough to criticize The Fountain because of the troubles he went through to even get the movie made. And while I’m a big fan of The Wrestler, it doesn’t compare to the creativity and energy that Aronofsky displayed in his masterful Requiem For A Dream. I’m ecstatic to say that Aronofsky returns to using that talent in Black Swan, and in Telluride, it seems to be polarizing audiences. People either lovee it or hated it. I think that’s a good sign.
The story is simple. Nina (Natalie Portman) is cast as the Swan Princess by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), a very tough and sketchy director of the ballet theater. Nina perfectly fits the role of the White Swan, but is far too innocent to pull off the role of the Black Swan. In comes Lily (Mila Kunis), a perfect fit for the Black Swan, and a perfect rival for Nina. Nina starts to stress about her role, as well as becoming paranoid that she may lose the role, much less to Lily who seems to be following Nina in more ways then one. That’s all I’ll say about the story as the rest must be experienced on its own.
Aronofsky is able to always contain an eerie, uncomfortable feeling throughout the movie. With a simple color palette, he evokes innocence through pink and white, and destruction through black, green, and red. That feeling builds and builds until Nina can’t even take it anymore, and that says a lot about the excellent performance by Natalie Portman. She is in every scene of the movie, and her performance matches the feel of the movie perfectly. Will we ever be able to say what truly is going on?
As mentioned, Aronofsky reuses his techniques that made him the director to look out for. Suspenseful dance scenes are typically taken in long takes with seamless special effects that make you do a doubletake of “did I just miss something?” The use of sound returns with eerie background noises, and whispered voices. The use of mirrors and lighting is something new by Aronofsky that keeps that sense of horror. He also continues on with his themes of family separation and self-destruction to achieve happiness.
Aronofsky prides himself on directing actresses and women characters. Besides giving Natalie one of her best roles, he gets great performances out of Barbara Hershey and Mila Kunis. Barbara Hershey is Nina’s mom. She is overly cautious of Nina, and doesn’t want to let her go, but she slowly loses control. Mila Kunis gets a role that seems perfect for her as the anti-Natalie Portman. Sporting a sexy black bird tattoo on her back, and innocently leading Nina to the dark side, she evokes the Black Swan in every way.
Much will be made of the final twenty minutes. I will not spoil anything here, but Nina’s final line is just evocative of the movie and her character as a whole.
Aronofsky and Portman team together for what will certainly be one of my favorite movies of the year. It is scary, sexy, daring, and incredibly unique. I’ve been waiting for Aronofsky to return to form, and there’s a lot to talk about in this movie. For now, I can only rave, and later, I look forward to discussing with you all. Cronenberg and Polanski would be proud.