Black Swan

8 Dec

Title: Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky
Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin, based on a story by Andres Heinz
Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey, Kristina Anapau, Toby Hemingway, Sebastian Stan, Janet Montgomery
MPAA Rating:
R, strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use
108 min
Major Awards:
1 Golden Globe, 1 SAG Award, 1 BAFTA
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

I just saw Black Swan, and to date, with just a bit more than three weeks left in the year, it’s most definitely my favorite film of all 2010. This is a film that I can call a masterpiece without any sort of hesitation, because that’s exactly what it is, a masterful piece of art.

Darren Aronofsky has been one of the auteurs I have liked the most for about a decade now. He came to the scene in 1998 with Pi, one of the most perfect debut films to have come out in the past couple of decades that he reportedly made for a measly $60’000, and got him all the indie cred he deserved. Then he got a slightly larger budget, $4.5 million, to craft his sophomore effort with, still a small amount but this is a guy that works with small amounts and creates unbelievable pieces of art with them, and the result was one of the best sophomore efforts ever, Requiem for a Dream, a film I have professed my love for time and time again.

Six years passed since Requiem for a Dream for us to get his next effort in 2006. And in that time Requiem for a Dream had managed to establish him as a man with a very unique vision and way of translating that into films with a harrowing effect, I have it ranked at #16 in my Best Of List of the past decade, and it was the film got people really anticipating his next film. However the result was far from amazing.

That film was The Fountain, a film that Mr. Aronofsky had written and planned to direct with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in the leading roles under a proposed budget of $70 million. However, Warner Bros. shut down production on it, Mr. Pitt left the film and Mr. Aronofsky had to compromise his vision, rewriting the script and agreeing to work with a $35 million budget and having his then wife Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman in the leading roles. The result was nowhere near bad, I actually thought it was quite okay, but it was so evident upon watching it that this was not the way Mr. Aronofsky wanted it to be done, this was a hugely ambitious project and the cutting down of costs affected the result tremendously.

In 2008 he rebounded with The Wrestler, a film I ranked as the 9th best of all last decade and that resuscitated the career of Mickey Rourke who gave one of the most daring performances I have ever seen. That film again had Mr. Aronofsky working on a low budget, $6 million, and working on a more intimate story, one that resonated with viewers from the beginning of the movie until the end credits rolled and that amazing Bruce Springsteen song came to life.

I realized I haven’t talked about Black Swan at all so far. But I just wanted to tell those who didn’t know about Mr. Aronofsky’s career that this is a man who has crafted two pretty much perfect films in my opinion, and that easily gets that number up to three with this one. Another film he made for a reasonably low price, $13 million, from an idea he had first discussed with Natalie Portman a decade ago.

The next film Mr. Aronofsky will direct is set to be The Wolverine, based on the X-Men character, but that won’t be a sequel of the Gavin Hood directed X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but rather a one-off entry into the franchise. I guess he’s doing this to finally get to work with a huge budget and try to tell a larger scale story, and my guess is that a Wolverine movie with Mr. Aronofsky’s imprint will more than likely be a roaring success.

And now, let’s talk about Black Swan, my favorite film of the year thus far. This is the most passionate film I’ve seen in a really long while, one that will no doubt polarize its viewers, some people will be like me, head over heels for the master class on display, and there will definitely be some people who won’t get it. But I got it, I thought Mr. Aronofsky’s direction was seriously daring and should definitely garner him an Oscar nomination, and I thought Natalie Portman’s performance was one for the ages, and if she gets the Oscar it would be well deserved, though a certain Ms. Bening may have something to say about it.

The performance Ms. Portman gives is seriously spellbinding. And she’s why the movie works so well, in order for Mr. Aronofsky to successfully translate his huge vision he needed an actress willing to go seriously far for him, physically and mentally this is a very demanding role, and Ms. Portman gets seriously immersed in it, delivering a performance that’s as nerve-racking and unforgettable as they come. Ms. Portman looks and feels like a ballerina, childishly thin and obsessed with her art, and as we are introduced to her world we are told by Vincent Cassel’s terrific Thomas, the director of the ballet company, that they’re going to put on a new production of Swan Lake.

And right then things start making a turn for the creepily gorgeous. Winona Ryder’s character, the veteran ballerina is replaced with Ms. Portman’s Nina, the young star who’s given the demanding task of playing both the Swan Queen and her evil twin. And it’s when Nina is put under such tremendous pressure that we become so deeply enthralled by this film, and we are entertained by Mr. Aronofsky’s look into the world of ballet, the physical sacrifices Nina makes are all shown in full light, she’s willing to do anything for her art, willing to bleed, willing to vomit, you just have to see all of this it’s seriously compelling stuff. And it all works so well because this is a director who has made a career out of showing such perfect glimpses into the tormented lives of people, and he does so with such intellect and tact that it’s just stunning to watch.

Ms. Portman’s performance will obviously steal the show, and rightfully so. But Mr. Cassel’s is also great, and even more so are Mila Kunis as Lily, Nina’s rival dancer with whom she develops a very complex relationship with and about whom I’ll talk a bit more later on, and Barbara Hershey, who’s seriously terrific as Nina’s mother, a former dancer herself who’s all over her to succeed and adding even more pressure to her daughter, her relationship is one of the many amazing things this film offers. Everyone really is just perfect for their roles, and adds to the overall awesomeness of this film, a film which has a bit of everything, the psychological thriller with more than a bit of sexuality, melodrama, and it’s even funny at times, in a dark and ludicrous sort of way.

Now, about Ms. Kunis. I doubt she’ll receive an Oscar nomination, but I really think she should. Mr. Aronofsky reportedly cast Ms. Kunis via Skype without having her audition, and that has to be one of the smartest moves he has made. She’s just seriously amazing as Lily, because she has to be what Nina isn’t, she has to be the sort of girl that fascinates Nina, someone that has confidence and isn’t so smothered by the pressure of their demanding world, and someone that will intrigue her in every single way possible.

And that’s what’s so terrific about Black Swan, the psychological relationships Nina has with everyone. With Lily she’s enthralled, sexually and professionally, intrigued with how Lily embeds herself into her mind; with her mother she has a weird relationship because she won’t let her evolve as she lives vicariously through Nina, never letting her do anything for her own; and then there’s Thomas who is manipulative and cunning and requires Nina to get out of the sexual repression her mother has set upon her.

Black Swan is a perfect film. Mr. Aronofsky has been quoted  saying that this is his companion piece to The Wrestler, both films are set in very specific worlds that demand a huge amount of sacrifice from oneself to survive in their professional atmospheres. And both those films work because they had actors willing to go the extra mile for their art, and Ms. Portman totally gives into her role, a ballerina driven by obsession, losing herself mentally in the process. Perfect direction, perfect acting, perfect everything, this is the best film of the year, simple as that.

Grade: A+


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