Dec 22, 2010

Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky needs no introduction: he released the stylized anti-drug PSA, Requiem for a Dream, and the somewhat docudrama, The Wrestler. To complete his lunar cycle of self-destruction is the release of Black Swan, a film of which I am having a hard time understanding how, and why, a film of this artistic ingenuity has been funded - but thank god has it. Two viewings later and this film, a documentation of a spiritual meltdown, still stuns me with the sinuous performance of Natalie Portman as Nina/White Swan and the elusive Black Swan, that we can assume resides within all of us. As Thomas (Vincent Cassel) explains to Nina, the White Swan is hers naturally, but in order to channel the Black Swan, cowardice must be examined in order to completely let oneself go and this is the premise of the film. It's really all about the mental manufacturing of stress and the debilitating effects of rivalry, save for being placed in a position of instability. Aronofsky made sure to film Black Swan almost behavioristically, with cameras placed over shoulders to highlight the bustling life of a professional dancer from the ever-watchful eyes of the looming architecture. 

Inciting the events is the forced resignation of aging ballerina Beth (Winona Ryder), leaving a position for a new star to headline the Company's "visceral" re-imagining of Tchaikovsky's opus, Swan Lake. Being the ambitious, sheltered, girl she is, Nina Sayers leaps for the chance to be the new Swan Queen. Thomas accepts after being introduced, violently, to Nina's dark side. An act of blind faith if I'd ever seen one. From this moment on, characters are introduced and boundaries are pushed. Not only for Aronofsky's budgeted ballet horror film, but for the characters as well. Nina begins to see past her mother's crippling mental condition when the recently-turned debutante meets with friend/fantasy/rival, Lily (Mila Kunis). From here on, what is documented is a massive crisis of both beauty and identity. In lavish scenes of vanity, we witness horrifying acts of body horror that would make one Mr. Cronenberg cringe with absolute horror. For me, violence is almost second nature in film. I watch a film labeled horror/thriller and I expect ample scenes of brutality. But nothing could prepare me for the holy grail of squeamish activity - cuticle and nail savagery. I consider Black Swan to shelter my only instance of a breaking point. These are things that are to be a forbidden in horror. Not to lower Black Swan to something as simple and to-the-point as horror, but to crown the new princess of terror - Black Swan is the ladies Jacob's Ladder.

Black Swan is a film that has been garnering immense praise recently and it is very obvious as to why. Not only is the tome of film-within-a-film altered to become play within performance, but both instances of double mediums are equally entrancing. The performance of Swan Lake is captivating and profound, in part to the incredible sound featured in Black Swan. For instance, the fluttering feathers and the scratching and clawing of the swan vying to escape. Not only the debut of Swan Lake, but Nina's psychological breakdown is marvelous as well. Her fractured female mindset becomes almost nerve-shredding because unlike most female characters, I sympathized. First hand do we witness the eventual evolution into a whore, the name branded after meeting and fucking (implied) a stranger at a bar. This transformation from late-bloomer princess to a die-hard diabolical slut is all in part to Lily's intervention. It's when this catalyst enters the equation do we see that it most always appear to be women who convert their familiar into debauched "deadgirls".

Juggling many traits of erotic thriller, horror, and even a Lifetime channel presentation, Black Swan will undoubtedly garner many comparisons. From Repulsion, Jacob's Ladder, and Mulholland Dr., Black Swan rises from the expectations and emerges its own beautiful beast. After long wait, Black Swan marks the birth of an abnormal terror, the likes of which I haven't seen. But with this terror comes unabashed beauty and artistry. I'm having a damn hard time finding something I don't love about the film. From casting Vincent Cassel as debonair womanizer to Natalie Portman's authentic acrobatics, this is Aronofsky's best work to date. The final act alone would leave Matthew Barney blushing as Black Swan takes real performance art and splices it with daft surrealism and self-possession. Another critical aspect is Black Swan leaves few points left to the imagination, while ambiguity is something to be heralded, the blunt display of psychological pressure turned trauma is met with satisfying computer animation. Fuck Inland Empire, Black Swan is the definitive tale of a woman in trouble. The film also thankfully skips the angst stage and swan-dives straight into the heart of madness which is great considering Portman's track record for Teen Choice Awards.

Appealing to women, Black Swan successfully takes an art that I haven't been formally introduced to, and breathes excitement and majesty into. Another selling point is the blatant femininity, the never-ending quest for perfection. Having dealt with unstable women (which of them aren't?), I find the portrayal of women's vanity as a selfish and fatal consequence relieving. This masterful generalization of the deceitful female psyche debunks the age-old rumor that women are made with sugar & spice, everything nice. Nothing sweet about this fantastical delusion, Nina Sayers is at odds with the world and we can't figure out why. Once Nina casts off the maternal blanket that has been smothering and oppressing her for her whole life, the berserk bad-girl breaks free to finally let go in the heat of art, for art. Again, having viewed Black Swan twice, I find my willingness to revisit the world of bulimia and backstabbing alarming. I can only give so many kind words to Black Swan before the endearing comments become redundant as I fear has already occurred. If you're anything like me and you take dashes of surrealism and complexity with your cinematic fables, Black Swan is soon to be your favorite film of the year. Add the brevity of a mental breakdown and elements of melancholy and you have Aronofsky's masterpiece. I was enchanted, were you?



Shaft said...

Great review.

Saw this film yesterday, finally. I was reluctant because of the ballet theme, which really does not interest me in general. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised with "Black Swan".

"The Wrestler" is still my Aronofsky favorite, probably because the subject is closer to me than ballet.

But definitely, "Black Swan" is one of the best films this year.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Merry Christmas lads. Its great to see Jeff Bridges taking over in cinemas this Christmas. I know you would never be-little yourselves by reveiwing mainstream garbage like "Tron: Legacy" or "True Grit" on this site, its just that its so marvellous and exhilarating to see a geezer who is so rampagingly heterosexual and all-american as the centre of attention, it makes a pleasant change from all the dirty filthy British faggots who have been polluting cinemas with their loathsome images at Christmas over the last few years.