The first film I ever, properly, reviewed on theFILMblog was Darren Aronofsky's moving drama, The Wrestler. So upon my two year anniversary of doing this self-made job, it's perhaps fitting the film which marks the occasion is the review, is his follow-up. The dark and mysterious macabre thriller, Black Swan.
Darren Aronofsky has been known, infamously, for twisting the minds of cinema goers with art-house hits such as Pi, The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream. So, whenever the director released The Wrestler in 2009 he defied expectation for the film's relatively straightforward narrative. Through The Wrestler he added a new element to his film-making, an ability to touch the souls of his audience with a heart-wrenching portrayal from Mickey Rourke. In Black Swan he attempts to combined the mind-bending elements of his earlier films with those newly discovered personal nuances to create something new entirely, something very strange and very unique.
The film tells the tale of uptight ballet dancer, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) as she prepares herself for the leading role of a lifetime as the Swan Queen in, perhaps, the only ballet even people who are ignorant to the art-form would know of, Swan Lake. As she strives herself to the complete performance, she descends deeper and deeper into her own psychological wilderness, quickly losing grip with reality entirely.
Natalie Portman truly gives the performance of her career, under the director's guide. Nina's tentative nature makes for frustrating viewing, while this strangely dark, psychological, sexual exploration finds herself in, as the film progresses, makes for utterly compelling cinema the likes not seen in such a mainstream film for some time.
The dark forces willing Nina on, in the form of ballet head, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) and her seductive and curiously free spirited colleague, Lily (an excellent, Mila Kunis), add to this detached drama. While Winona Ryder was quite terrifying in the role of Beth, the overly bitter, ageing, leading dancer Portman replaces and the near institutional Barbara Hershey invoked a suffocating mother, not entirely out of place, from one of David Lynch's cinematic odysseys.
The film's duality themes are open to many interpretations. Perhaps the path to hell, lust and total ambition being paved with the purest of intentions of working hard, striving for perfection, trying to be a nice person? As a man I found the experience totally gripping and even at times quite sensual. I would be really fascinated to hear a woman's opinion on the film though (comments welcome below please ladies) as I imagine it would conjure different points of view on the main character's personal demons. The near brutal strives towards total perfection play true to the only other ballet centric film I've seen, the 1948 classic, The Red Shoes albeit not nearly to this level of sheer horror.
The deeply tragic and almost operatic nature of the film's narrative is amplified, profusely, by the grand, virtuoso elegance of Clint Mansell's astonishing score - especially in the film's incredible climax. Which, even on its own, is a beautiful piece of standalone classical music, combining beautifully as a companion to Tchailovsky's original score, for the Swan Lake ballet.
Darren Aronofsky excels himself once again with a piece of high end cinematic art, like nothing he has ever truly produced before - which is something, considering I'm still trying to figure out The Fountain. Black Swan is a film of two halves in the most sincerely literal sense, it's progress from being shy and playfully imaginative to intensely dark and even quite uncomfortable. Like the ballet, the film sets itself around, it was never going to be happy ending. Incredible.
Black Swan is in cinemas throughout the UK from January 21st 2010.