In Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, Natalie Portman plays a ballerina who, by all accounts, has achieved perfection. She is unmatched for technique, she is more devoted than any other dancer at her company, and the Artistic Director (Vincent Cassel) has a crush on her. The only problem? After being cast as the lead in Swan Lake, she is being asked to transcend perfection, and that task proves damaging, both physically and mentally.
For the physical aspect, Aronofsky provides a disturbingly visceral attention to the abuse ballerinas have to endure for the sake of their craft. He also masterfully uses sound to enhance every creak and groan of floorboards and bones, and by doing so he creates an unsettling air of dread that permeates the film and doesn’t subside until well after the credits have rolled.
As for the mental, Portman displays a shocking vulnerability as the dancer, Nina, struggling to find the key to transforming from the virginal purity of the White Swan to the unhinged darkness of the Black Swan. A transformation she is completely unequipped for; still living with her mother who treats her like the 12-year-old girl she used to drive to dance class, still sleeping in a pink bedroom bedecked with stuffed animals, who is uncomfortable dealing with the advances of men, and who can’t even handle a night out without a psychologic episode.
Helping her with the transformation (although helping probably isn’t the right word) is fellow ballerina Mila Kunis. Kunis brings a surprising darkness to the role of Portman’s real life Black Swan, making her presence felt in all corners of Nina’s world, even when she is not actually there.
Filling out the supporting cast, Cassel gives an astonishing performance as the Artistic Director who uses sex and quiet vitriol to completely disassemble Natalie Portman into the psychotic mess she becomes solely for the benefit of his production. And Barbara Hershey is phenomenal as the horrific stage mother who feels completely entitled to live vicariously through her daughter, and who responds with emotional outbursts when she is denied the opportunity to do so.
All these elements combine to form one of the most vividly upsetting and altogether astonishing films of the year. Aronofsky skillfully balances sex and violence, abject horror and astounding beauty, the physical and the mental and uses all of it to provoke, confound, and mystify the audience. In doing so, he has managed to transcend perfection in making a film that is more than a sum of it’s parts. A film that makes for an unsettling experience, but one that is an absolute pleasure to behold.
Posted under Kyle's Adventures in Pop Culture
This post was written by Kyle on January 4, 2011