Aronofsky reaches New Heights with Swan
Highly anticipated film proves to be bonafide Oscar-bait
We are likely all familiar with the typical, cliché "ballerina" movie. In it, a fiercely dedicated and usually incredibly wealthy ballerina struggles with her commitment to her craft, often in response to the appearance of a strapping male dancer from a much-lower economic stratum. Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" is absolutely nothing like those films.
The film centers on Nina (Natalie Portman), a meticulous ballerina in a prominent New York City ballet company, vying for the highly sought-after dual role of the Swan Queen in the company's production of "Swan Lake" after veteran dancer Beth (Winona Ryder) has been forced out of the company. Although she is perfect for the innocent, refined and timid White Swan, Nina struggles to connect with and bring out the sultry and uninhibited side of the Black Swan. Encouraged by artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) and threatened by a new and talented rival (Mila Kunis), Nina sinks deeper and deeper into the role, an obsession that proves to be all too consuming.
Aronofsky is known for taking risks and pushing artistic boundaries. Requiem for a Dream artfully blurred lines between drama and horror, examining the lives of four interconnected drug users in disturbing yet beautifully provocative fashion. Eight years later, The Wrestler portrayed with gritty realism the surprisingly touching life of a washed-up professional wrestler. With Black Swan, Aronofsky finds something of a middle ground between both artistic styles, maintaining an underlying sense of reality even as the truth of Nina's world comes further and further into question.
From the beginning, Aronofsky's masterful cinematography draws the viewer in. Even in the film's most chilling and horrific moments, clever framing and editing make it nearly impossible to look away. In fact, Aronofsky pushes the audience to discomfort as he aligns us with Nina's unstable viewpoint. Nevertheless, this discomfort works to the film's credit, powerfully igniting the story unfolding on screen.
A disarming cast also warrants praise. When Black Swan debuted on the film festival circuit, the rumblings of movie insiders and festival attendees about Natalie Portman's Oscar-worthy performance began. They are not mistaken - Portman tackles a challenging role far out of her comfort zone with grace. She impressively tempers Nina's meek, perfectionist persona with periodic bursts of dark impulsivity. Mila Kunis provides needed comic relief with Lily. As Nina's counter and a real-life Black Swan, she is naturally seductive and appealingly imprecise. As Leroy - the diehard, overly friendly artistic director of the company - Vincent Cassel simultaneously attracts and repulses the audience in an expert performance.
Truthfully, it took a considerable amount of time to taken in everything that Black Swan throws at the audience, but truly digesting the film is worth the effort. Driven by captivating cinematography, a story that continually keeps the audience on its toes, and arguably some of this Oscar season's best performances, Black Swan is a a work of art.