“Black Swan” is unlike any experience I have had at the movies. I am not sure I have fully absorbed the story, but the experience of it is one I will not forget for a long time. Director Darren Aronofsky has crafted a very dark and tense film that seems to drift back and forth between fantasy and reality.
Natalie Portman is at the center of the film. She plays Nina, a dancer in a New York ballet company. The company is producing “Swan Lake” and the director, the ruthless Thomas Leroy played commandingly by Vincent Cassel, decides to replace his star ballerina. Nina lives with her overbearing mother, who wants her daughter to succeed where she did not. Nina also finds unwanted competition from a new dancer named Lily plays by Mila Kunis in a revelatory performance.
Nina eventually gets the lead in the show after violently rejecting the sexual advances of Thomas the director. During rehearsals the director make sit quite clear that Nina has the technical precision to portray the white swan but lacks the passion and intensity to portray the black swan.
Outside of work Nina and Lily develop a friendship at first. Lily takes Nina out to dinner and clubs where she is exposed to sleazy partiers and drugs. Her life up until this moment has been confined to a small apartment with her mother, who seems to control her life. Eventually Nina and Lily seem to experiment sexually. Or is this when Nina starts to lose her grip on reality.
The last third or so of the film borders on complete madness as Nina experiences events that may or may not be happening. Some are more obvious then others, but moments of gruesome violence and self mutilation seem pretty real.
My description of the film so far has given nothing away and I dare not say more. I now choose to reflect on the performances and the amazing direction from Darren Aronofsky.
I have been reading a lot lately about how this is the role that will finally get Natalie Portman true recognition as an adult actress. Has nobody seen her amazing performances in movies like “V For Vendetta”, “Garden State”, “Brothers”, or even “Closer” in which she was nominated for her first academy award? Her performance here is amazing though. She hits all the right emotional notes but what I appreciated most was the obvious training she went through to convincingly dance on screen. She is flawless from what I could tell.
Mila Kunis is the real revelation here. She has been saddled mostly with comedic roles in movies but for me I have had a hard time forgetting about her irritating role on television. Here she is passionate and almost reckless. Vincent Cassel, once again, gives a commanding performance that shows that he should be a leading man outside of his native France.
Now the true visionary behind this film is Darren Aronofsky. What really worries me is that his next film is the sequel to “Wolverine”. I don’t think I am fully prepared to lose him to genre filmmaking. Even though his films have not been blockbusters, to me, they are an event film. He is a true original. His vision here is unlike anything you will ever see. That is actually true for all of his films.