108 Min. | Drama – Mystery – Thriller | December 2010
IMDB Rating: 8.0
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Staring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel
Black Swan Review: Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” makes ballet cool—and if that isn’t a Herculean feat in itself. It also happens to be one of the best films of the year, featuring one of the best performances of the year. Natalie Portman will be nominated for her devastating portrayal of petite perfectionist Nina the ballerina or I’ll pull a Werner Herzog and eat my shoe. “Black Swan” is cut from the same cloth as Aronofsky’s 2008 film “The Wrestler,” if at the opposite end. Interestingly, before either project was realized, the director was reportedly mulling a drama about the relationship between a professional wrestler and a ballerina. Somewhere along the way, however, that concept was split down the middle—and thank God. “Black Swan” is brilliant, but it wouldn’t necessarily play well with others.
Like its predecessor, “Black Swan” examines a physically demanding and widely unappreciated art, and though thematically similar, the two complement each other via mutually exclusive cinematic vernaculars. “The Wrestler” is ultimately a safer film. Its emotional experience is directly conveyed via plot and dialogue. What Aronofsky attempts with “Black Swan” is riskier, he plays genre Frankenstein, taking established themes and transplanting them into that which feels initially least appropriate—horror. Yet despite certain unmistakable cues, I’d hesitate to call “Black Swan” a horror film. Visually, maybe, but John Carpenter insists “The Thing” is a Western, and likewise there is more to “Black Swan” than is aesthetically obvious. It probably best fits the psychological thriller mold, but as Aronofsky suggests through his manipulation of mirrors, it is not a film that ever casts a clear reflection. “Black Swan” strikes an immediate haunting note that seems to grow louder with reverberation rather than quieter.
The final act of the film comprises the most riveting 40 minutes I’ve seen on screen all year, though “Black Swan” is never the mindf**k some have improperly labeled it. Aronofsky deliberately builds atmosphere and anticipation toward a Kubrickian climax that is at once obvious and stunning. Tchaikovsky’s score falls like an aerial assault, and that inherent theatricality collides with Aronofsky’s narrative as they come to a dual boil. “Black Swan” is a wholly effective work born from the shadowy underside of the mind, anchored by a career-defining turn by Portman. It is a quick, impulsive piece, but it explains artistic devotion and the consuming nature of obsession as well or better than any film I’ve ever seen. In hindsight, it feels more characteristic of the filmmaker responsible for “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream” than “The Wrestler,” though the parallels between it and “Black Swan” run deep. They may be cut from the same cloth, but the difference between the two is as stark as black and white. Hail Aronofsky, the Swan King.