A twirling ballerina will never be viewed the same way; nor will Tchaikovsky’s music be listened to the same way after witnessing Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan.” A hint of David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” and many other films, along with Aronofsky’s own magical, directing powers make this film one that demands and rightfully deserves an encore viewing – maybe several, encore viewings.
Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, a veteran ballet dancer in New York City who is auditioning for the lead role in an updated version of “Swan Lake.” She lives in an apartment complex with her over controlling mother, Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey), whose main desire was to see her daughter onstage, but now she’s kind of regretting what she was wishing. While Nina is auditioning for the role, the play’s director, Thomas Leroy (a terrific Vincent Cassel), tells her she has everything down for the role of the White Swan, but doesn’t have the darkness for the role of the Black Swan, the evil side of the ballet’s main character. When Thomas forces ballet sensation Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) into retirement, Nina is chosen to take over the role that Beth usually plays. This means she was given the lead role she has been dying to get. As Nina tries to make herself perfect, she is interrupted by rival newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis), who has everything Thomas is looking for. The two don’t necessarily become the best of friends since Lily desperately wants the role as well. Lily ends up becoming the alternate for Nina. While Nina tries to make her new role perfect, her life begins to spin out of control. She fears Lily is after her, willing to do anything to gain ownership of the Swan Queen role. There are random scars appearing on her back. She begins to notice some feather parts beginning to grow on her. Her dreams become stranger and stranger. Her dark side starts to come into play and it’s a side no one, not even Nina, would expect to see.
Aronofsky fills the screen with such intense, uncomfortable scenes that are so hard to watch, but so hard to look away from. “Black Swan” is filled with many extreme close-ups and frightening imagery to make the viewer’s head spin until it falls off. It’s another fascinating entry into Aronofsky’s creative and unique career as a filmmaker. After his disappointing, philosophical, science fiction film, “The Fountain” and his powerful sports drama, “The Wrestler,” Aronofsky returns to the hyperkinetic style of filmmaking that made “Requiem for a Dream” and “Pi” uneasy, but captivating gems.
Clint Mansell, Aronofsky’s go to man for music, creates a soundtrack that is both intense and beautiful to listen to. But what the two of them do with traditional, classical music is turn the peaceful sounds into a visually, chaotic frenzy. Some people listen to classical music as a way to get through test studying or just for relaxing. Aronofsky sets the music to scenes of terror and creates a whole new take on how one may listen to the genre. It may still sound peaceful, but with the intense imagery that will remain in the viewer’s head long after the movie ends, it may be hard to shake when listening to the music by itself.
Portman gives a grand performance as a young woman at lost with her self-image in order to be perfect at the role she has been dying to secure. Aronofsky gives Nina some of the same characteristic traits he gave to other characters in his earlier films. Nina is like Mickey Rourke’s character in “The Wrestler” and Sean Gullete’s character in “Pi.” Randy “The Ram” Robinson was trying to make a comeback to the professional wrestling scene while trying to fix up his life outside of the ring. But there are so many obstacles that get in the way of improving his life and even improving his professional career. He ignores those obstacles to become the best he can be, but it hurts him and those around him. Max Cohen, in “Pi,” is so determined to find a key number that he loses control of who he is. The same things can be said about Nina. She ignores all those around her and won’t be outdone by Lily. In the long run, it hurts her and those around her. And just like Max Cohen, she becomes so obsessed with this role and determined for greatness that she brings out a side no one has seen.
Aside from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Kuins’ post-“That ‘70s Show” career has been pretty dull. Her role in this year’s “The Book of Eli” was just as forgettable as the movie itself was. Here, she nails it. There are moments where she comes off as sweet and sometimes seductive, but her cruel, evil side comes into play and it’s a role worthy of an Oscar nomination. Hopefully, she can land more roles like this one.
“Black Swan” is a haunting nightmare one will want to relive once it ends. It’ll make the viewer uneasy, but it will also wow him or her with its brilliance and originality. Now, take a bow Ms. Portman, Ms. Kunis and Mr. Aronofsky, for a job well done.
Grade: A+ (5/5 stars)
Now playing at Cinemark 14 in Chico
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