Thursday, 30 December 2010

Black Swan

One of the most amazing directors of the last decade Darren Aronofsky returns from The Wrestler with what has to be one of the best films I've seen this year.

Probably like many of you out there, I walked into this film not really knowing if I was going to like it. I love Aronofsky, even The Fountain which a lot of people hated I still hold in high esteem. His brave filmmaking defies convention, pushes boundaries and he always gets top performances from his cast. However, the trailer is somewhat misleading. Is it a thriller? A drama? Even a horror? But then, all these genres have filled his works in the past (apart from The Wrestler), it's hard to label it, which is all part of the magic. Even the Russian-inspired posters look amazing and will grace many a wall in the future of young trendies I'm sure. But the main point of issue however was really the fact it was about ballet and to be matter-of-fact about it, I know sweet FA about ballet. Fortunately, it doesn't matter and I have never been so enthralled by a film of this nature.

To put it simply, the story focuses on young Natalie Portman as Nina, a ballet dancer who is trying her hardest to win the Swan Queen part in a new vision of Swan Lake but she just cannot exhibit the passion of the Black Swan. Her slow, torturous journey into the dark realms of her psyche uncover more than just passion and soon we start to question reality as we travel alongside her.

Aronofsky does his typical European 70's 'amateur' 16mm style film-making that uses a lot of handicam, jump cuts, shaky, 'realistic' shots that make us feel like we are part of the action, that we are part of Portman's character, an extension of her conciousness. She is so innocent, so child-like that the idea that she has to play a dark, seductive monster through movement of her body alone seems unrealistic but Vincent Cassel as Thomas believes in her, he sees something, a darkness she keeps hidden. Like pretty much all of Aronofsky's work, the human body is an important factor in his films, whether it's sexual, violent, or through expression - everything counts, and in Black Swan, it's here in spades.

Portman plays rather an understated, muted yet remarkable performance as Nina gets to grip with her role. There's so much going on here, said in so little, that it's hard to express unless you've seen it. We all know that ballet dancers are known for having eating disorders, putting their body through unbearable pain, often resulting in a child-like appearance and Portman, at her thinnest and youngest, is going through all this to be perfect. She's an obsessive compulsive which doesn't help either and her child-like appearance is often reflected in her demeanour. She doesn't like talking about sex, she has an overbearing mother, no friends, works too hard and has a melancholiness that is hard to relate through words. We know she has a history of self-abuse and that her mother (who is creepy to say the least) is living her dancing dream through her daughter, that the other girls don't really like her but what is truly frightening is that by opening the pandora's box of restrained emotions, it's making her go insane. This isn't really a drama, it's a psychological horror that I think will make a lot of cinema-goers uncomfortable and shock them, but in a positive way.

Nina is taking over from Winona Ryder in the main Swan Lake part, but it's a position Ryder's character is somewhat reluctant to leave. As a result of this, Cassell tells us that by being self-destructive, by being that passionate, is what perfection is about, it is what makes Ryder's character such a joy to watch, and he constantly drives the point home in that she must lose control to really give a great performance, that you can spend all your time learning the moves but without that soul, it's meaningless. However, she is trying her best to stay in control of losing control because her world is crumbling around her, she is literally being corrupted in front of our very eyes.

Throughout all this, she feels pressure that Mila Kunis' character Lily is ready to jump into her shoes at any minute. She knows that Lily's care-free, easy, passionate attitude is something Cassell wants in the Black Swan performance, and in fact Lily soon becomes a representation of the dark side of Nina, and it's this dark side that is so tempting ...

I don't know what Swan Lake is really about, but there's enough information here to make you realise that the similarities with the play and the film aren't a coincidence. In fact, the whole film might as well be a performance of Swan Lake, the final temptation of the Black Swan being too irresistible. Many theories can be read into this, whether it's the obsessive compulsive nature going one step too far, whether Portman's character is mentally unstable, self-destructive, whether Lily exists, whether Nina is a figment of Lily's imagination or perhaps that it's in fact Nina's mother's vision and Nina doesn't exist at all. Whatever the film is truly about, it's exciting to watch, you are soon questioning everything and Portman's descent is intense, horrific and yet mesmerising to watch, I spent the whole time on edge and the physical horror of the nails, the picking and the scratching was enough to make me look away, and I have never looked away at anything before. The idea of mirrors, reflections, doppelgangers and this 'fake' image of ourselves, this other-worldly reality we see in front of the mirror each day, this dual nature like the Swan is also fascinating and something Aronofsky plays with expertly during the film. The sexuality of the film is also very strong and people will no doubt talk about the lesbian scenes for years to come, but her embrace of her dark nature, of her womanhood in fact, is something I hope no other woman had to go through. The crescendo of the piece is Swan Lake and is where you see Portman literally transform. She is almost intoxicated with everything she has strived to keep under control and for her to be perfect, for her to survive, she has to pretty much destroy herself.

Of course, many things can be read into this piece and I'd love to hear what other theories people have come up with. Whether I've missed anything stupidly clear out or if I'm completely missing the point entirely. But in any case, the acting was superb, the directing was flawless, the script inspiring and as a film it was perfect, it's hard to believe this and The Wrestler started off as an idea for one film! I can't hold this work of art in high enough esteem and can only hope that it takes over at the Oscars. It's dark, it's visceral, it's horrific, it's disturbing, it's glorious, it's the Black Swan.

Rating: 10/10

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