Well, we’re continuing the series of me reviewing films that were nominated for Best Picture at the 2010 Academy Awards with the second film on the list, Darren Aranofsky’s psychological thriller Black Swan. I almost didn’t want to review this film just after my first viewing because I pretty much (and I can guarantee that I will watch it again within the week) want to watch it one more time as soon as possible so that I can go back and try to put this jigsaw puzzle back together. My mind is currently blown in the kind of way that only a David Lynch film can normally accomplish. While the first half of the film might have left something to be desired and is what keeps this film from perfection, I can honestly say that last acts of this film left me trying to unravel the various psychological threads of Aranofsky’s brilliance in a way that no film has since Mulholland Drive.
Black Swan is the story of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman in a career-defining performance), a ballerina who has been cast as the Swan Queen in her ballet company’s production of the classic Swan Lake. When the film begins, you are led to believe that Nina is a sweet, good girl who is perhaps a little unhinged in her desperation for perfection in ballet and to be a star in her ballet company. When she is cast as the Swan Queen, the dark and seductive role of the titular Black Swan is seen to be difficult for her because she is frigid, meek, and cold. She feels threatened by a rival ballerina, Lily (Mila Kunis) who better embodies the darkness of the Black Swan. As the film progresses and the parallels between the story of the actual ballet itself and the film begin to merge in incredibly meta-textual ways, the line between the White Swan and the Black Swan, between good and evil, and between reality and delusion become twisted in ways that can only be comprehended by multiple viewings of the film.
I always knew Natalie Portman was a talented actress ever since she made The Professional back when she was a child. She has the sort of natural stage presence and delivery that most actresses can only dream of, and to top it all off, she has a beauty and elegance that is simply unmatched by anyone else in Hollywood today. However, I never thought she was capable of this sort of power-house performance. This is the kind of role actresses dream of, and if you do this right, you go down in the history books. I can easily say and say it without any qualifications that Natalie Portman has given one of the most intense and powerful performances of any female actress that I’ve ever seen. I would honestly put this performance in the same league as Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood or Colin Firth in A Single Man. It was just phenomenal. If you have any interest in the sort of acting that makes you believe in the power of movies, then Natalie’s performance is worth the price of admission alone. It was flawless.
The film’s first act was slow, and while watching the intricacies of the ballet system was quite interesting from an educational standpoint (this film, I imagine, will do much for ballet what Aranofsky’s The Wrestler did for wrestling), I was wondering where all of the hype from the film was coming from besides Portman’s performance anyways. Then, somewhere around a little after half-way through the film, Black Swan just shot off into outer-space and never slowed down til the credits rolled. The second half dripped with the sort of style and sheer psychological terror that seasoned masters like David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick throw out with ease. Ever since I saw The Wrestler, I always thought Aranofsky was going to be a big name someday in film, and this movie just cemented those suspicions. He is a top-tier talent and the director that I will now watch every film he makes out of a loyalty to his craft and legacy so far.
I haven’t seen a film that blurred the line between fiction and reality as well as Black Swan since either Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway. If you have any sort of interest in postmodern, psychological cinema, there is absolutely no excuse not to see this film. I honestly can’t decide if this was better than The Social Network or not, which prior to watching Black Swan currently had my vote for best movie of 2010. They are both going to have to have a couple more viewings before I can ultimately make that decision. This film was a hell of a ride, and something I have to watch many more times, and I can’t wait to go right back.
Final Score: A