Director Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is just your run-of-the-mill “girl haunted by doppelgangers while turning into a human/swan hybrid” ballet movie with elements of bisexual experimentation. In other words, writers Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin are a collective Dr. Frankenstein, standing over a creation that is part horror, part pure beauty. Firmly entrenched in Aronofsky’s increasingly well-defined, simultaneously gritty and crisp visual style, Black Swan is as frightening as it is splendorous. It makes watching ballet feel like being a voyeur to a game of Russian roulette. In a word: Wow!
Natalie Portman, whose collision course with Oscar could only be derailed by an inverse deus ex machina by the Academy, plays Nina. Nina is beautiful, hardworking and kinda lame. Tortured by her former-ballerina mother (Barbara Hershey) to seek perfection to the point of OCD, Nina is finally chosen by Thomas (Vincent Cassel) to replace Beth (Winona Ryder) as the lead in the dance company’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
Although confident her boring-as-hell, subdued personality is perfect for the demure White Swan, Thomas remains unsure that Nina can also play the wild, reckless Black Swan, which her role as Swan Queen demands. Enter Lily (Mila Kunis). Lily is a free spirit, a fact you can tell by her pronounced eyeliner and willingness to smoke in “no smoking” areas. As Thomas keeps pushing Nina, in some cases with inappropriate body parts, Nina realizes that if she doesn’t become more like Lily, she’ll lose the role to her.
We’ve now reached the end of the literal events that can be described. From there it’s masturbatory fantasies, Kafka-esque transformations as metaphors for self-mutilation and lots and lots of dancing. And it is all so very awesome.
Everybody get on board, the praise train is pulling out of the station: First up is Portman, who acts the ever-lovin’ crap out of her role. Her genuine affectations prevent the film from ever feeling exploitative; instead, her nuanced, tour-de-force delivery unspools as a metaphor for females squeezed by the vice of cultural pressure. Combine that with Clint Mansell’s classical/modern horror score and Aronofsky’s gobstopper direction, and it’s hard not to call Black Swan the year’s best.
Interestingly, it’s not just the ballet company within the movie that’s presenting a new version of Swan Lake, as the credits suggest the entire film itself can be read as an interpretation. With endless layers of brilliance and the year’s best female performance, Black Swan is one damn-fine feathered bird.
Grade = A