Friday, December 24, 2010

Black Swan

BLACK SWAN (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)

BLACK SWAN ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) finally gets her shot at being a star, but the pressures may be more than she can handle. Nina comes off as quiet and unassuming, which makes her ideal for the virginal white swan in a new production of SWAN LAKE, but the director (Vincent Cassel) has doubts that she can also embody the bold and lusty black swan, qualities that she must show if she is to play the Swan Queen.

To claim the leading role, Nina takes actions that surprise the director and herself, which may be the first signs that she’s losing her mind. The paranoia increases when Nina suspects that Lily (Mila Kunis), the newest dancer in the company, is angling for her treasured lead role.

BLACK SWAN merges the sexual hysteria of Roman Polanski’s REPULSION with the ballet drama of Powell and Pressburger’s THE RED SHOES and throws in a generous dollop of Cronenberg-like body horror for good measure. Director Darren Aronofsky’s lurid mixture of high and low art makes for an often intoxicating film about creative risk and personal development.

At the center of it is Portman delivering a tour de force performance that conveys BLACK SWAN’S dualities. The tiny actress looks the part of a fragile dancer, like one that could adorn the top of a music box. She’s every bit mommy’s little girl, from having her mother (Barbara Hershey) undress her and clip her nails to inhabiting a child-like bedroom in her parent’s apartment. Nina acts and is treated like a pretty little princess. Portman wears this sheltered quality as though it is a comfortable straitjacket.

When Nina’s shadow self thrashes to escape this coddled existence, Portman’s transformative acting is thrilling in how it manifests the psychosis. Delicate technical precision and emotional control gives way to bold, forceful expressions, particularly in the SWAN LAKE scenes that conclude the film on a dizzying high. Aronofsky is completely serious about the fever dream that is BLACK SWAN, which is how he’s able to pull off material that is inherently unserious.

Grade: B+

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