Saturday, 26 February 2011

Black Swan 2010

We have seen these characters before. A dedicated, neurotic perfectionist replaces someone, who was once at the top of their game, but is now past their prime; a younger, more energetic person that the protagonist fears will replace them; and behind it all, a controlling, almost sadistic, master, who everyone desires approval from. Yes, we've seen it before - and yet, as Darren Aronofsky's mouthpiece, Vincent Cassel, says in the film, “Done to death, I know, but not like this.”

Aronofsky's Black Swan is the story of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a prima ballerina, who has just landed the role of a lifetime - that of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. But it seems that despite her perfection as a dancer, director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) has almost grudgingly picked her; he knows she will do justice to the role of the White Swan, but she lacks the passion of the Black Swan. Nina is further distressed to find out that the last Swan Queen (played by Winona Ryder) hates her for taking her place, while Thomas pointedly praises the new girl, Lily (Mila Kunis), for her honest sensuality. If all this wasn't enough to tip her over the edge, Nina's obsessive, stifling mother, who is almost incestuously protective of her, keeps pushing and controlling her. What ensues is Nina's dark madness that seems to spiral faster and faster out of control and we no longer know what is reality and what is fantasy.

The film is, in one word, perfect. It swings from a story of ambition, to a story of passion and is soon unhinged to become a story of delusions and hallucinations. And it is scary...very scary. We watch everything from Nina's point of view and, as she loses her sanity, the world through her eyes slowly becomes a sick orgy of colours, sounds and actions that no longer seem probable. And Aronofsky has made sure that we're on this ride with her all the way. Yes, we know that the sketches on the walls are not actually whispering to Nina, but do we really know whether or not someone just got stabbed in the face with a nail file? The shadows, the whispers, the paranoia are just as real for the audience as they are for Nina and soon we are just as unsure of the difference between fact and fiction as is the ballerina herself.

This is Darren Aronofsky's fifth film and, in my opinion, his best. His use of fast editing and loud music to attack the audience's senses is present here as usual, and his actors deliver their best as they always do. But there is something inherently creepy and confusing about this film that makes it more spectacular than anything else he's done before. It is especially noteworthy how he has made it obvious from the very onset of the film that Nina suffers from psychological problems, thus setting the stage for disaster. Whether it is the inferences to self-harm and eating disorders or the constant feeling that something on the wall just moved, some shape just shifted in the reflection or some sound just did not belong, every scene in the film left me feeling insecure and creeped out and convinced that it is all downhill from here.

Cassell and Kunis are well-cast and well-directed. One brings ruthless charm and arrogance to the table, while the other brings an unruly, untethered wildness. Barbara Hershey's turn as Nina's mother has shades of actual tender love, mixed with nastiness and possession; and Winona Ryder is suitably bitter and scary. But it is Natalie Portman's show all the way. There is not a single scene where she is not present and it is through her eyes that we see the events unfold. Being naturally blessed with a beautiful, innocent face could have proved to be as difficult to overcome when playing the other side of Nina, as it was for Nina to play the Black Swan. But Portman takes us by the hand to witness her innocence and wickedness, her joys and misery, her dreams and especially her nightmares. Her performance appears to be effortless and real and suddenly all those calls for her to win the Academy Award tomorrow make complete sense.

Black Swan is an absolute masterpiece and should NOT be missed.

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, you've been a busy movie critic! We saw True Grit and loved it - Black Swan is in the line-up for the weekend.
    Love you, no matter what colour your feathers are today.....puk, puk.