bill bodkin reviews Darren Aronofsky’s latest psychological mind trip …
It’s not safe to go to the ballet anymore.
Like Steven Spielberg before him, Darren Aronofsky has created a film that makes us afraid … very afraid. While we don’t have to fear ballerinas coming off stage and eating us alive, we are subjected to a hallucinogenic, harrowing and absolutely amazing thriller that will have you white-knuckling your seat and your heart pounding out of your chest.
Black Swan is the tale of ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman, in possibly her best role ever) who is vying for the role of the Swan Queen in a New York-based dance troupe run by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). Nina is known for being technically perfect dancer who lacks personality and passion — she’s dubbed “frigid” by her contemporaries. However, Nina is far from emotionless in real life — she’s seconds away from tears at all times. She’s hyper-managed by her overbearing stage mom (Barbara Hershey) who’s obsessed with her daughter’s life. She doesn’t just invade her personal space — she lives in it.
Without giving too much away, Nina wins the coveted role of The Swan Queen — a dual performance that requires her to dance as the virginal, innocent White Swan and the dark, dangerous Black Swan. Nina struggles with the Black Swan and she delves further and further into the role, things start to happen.
And by things we mean big, scary, frightening things.
Nina and the audience go through the same experience. It starts with small, subtle “wait, did that just happen? … no that couldn’t have.” Then, Aronofsky ramps up the psychological warfare and we are given short, shotgun blasts of horror. We, like Nina, are given jolts of horrifying images. By the end of the film, the audience and Nina are caught up in a fever pitch of crazy imagery, lost in what’s real and what isn’t and the realization of what’s going on doesn’t hit us both until the final credits.
When the credits rolled, I realized something: Darren Aronofsky is a master. His direction once again is pitch-perfect, and his fans will not be disappointed in this piece. Black Swan deftly combines the hallucinogenic fever dream horror of his breakthrough feature Pi with the raw, brutal and visceral realistic intensity that he portrayed in The Wrestler. Watching Portman fix her mangled toes is just as excruciating as watching Randy the Ram cut his forehead open.
Aronofsky’s mastery also comes in evoking career performances out of his cast. Portman has never been better as the fragile Nina — annoyingly cowardly yet serious disturbed, she is a vision to watch. Mila Kunis, known mostly for her roles in That 70s Show and Family Guy, shows off serious acting chops as the dangerously seductive Lily. Barbara Hershey gives her comeback performance as Nina’s obsessive stage mom.
Black Swan is classic Aronofksy — it’s exciting, it’s deliciously tragic, it’s beautifully shot, acted to perfection … and something words cannot do justice to. This is a film that must be seen in the darkness of theater — a place where you will be consumed, frightened and entertained.