04 May 2011

Movies: Black Swan

Black Swan (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0947798/

Beautiful dark psychological thriller. Stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a ballet dancer in the corps (basically everyone who isn't the lead dancer is in the corps).  The director of the troupe, Thomas, announces that his lead dancer is retiring - which just might be code for he's tired of her and has cast her off.  Thomas wants to start the new ballet season with a production of Swan Lake with a twist, that twist being the same dancer will perform both the white swan and black swan parts.  Nina, who has spent her life to be the perfect dancer, sees her chance to grab that led role. Thomas agrees she'd be perfect for the white swan part, but she's so mechanically perfect she lacks the feeling and abandon he wants for the black swan part. Nina's ambition goes into overdrive as she starts pushing to get that part.
We watch events unfold from Nina's perspective. As we see deeper into Nina's life, her relationship with her controlling mother, her relationship with the other dancers, the depth of her ambition we start realizing that the line between Nina's perceptions and reality have blurred. The more she pushes, the more she crumbles, the more her paranoia intensifies, and we realize Nina's perception, and probably her mind, are teetering on the edge of psychotic insanity.

Directed by Darren Aronosfky. I really like this guy's films. I wanted to see Black Swan solely because he was directing it. "Pi" and "Requiem for a Dream" put Aronofsky on my instant watch list. "The Fountain" and "The Wrestler" didn't let me down, they just glued him in place on the instant watch list.  Black Swan? Didn't disappoint me in the least.

The story worked for me. Puts a good dark spin on the whole "X goes mad striving to be perfect" type film. And it moved fast too. It didn't dawdle about.  We start with Nina and we stick with her to the end, we don't even bother seeing what other cast members are doing.  Even if ballet is the last thing you want to slog through, the final third of the film is such a wild ride you'll forget about it.

In some ways I'm reminded of All About Eve, probably because of the replacing of the aging star with the new young thing plotline. I liked All About Eve and recommend it as a classic that should be seen at least once. But All About Eve was made at a different time with stage play sensibilities and its dialog and following of various characters reflects that. In contrast Black Swan stuck with an economy of dialog and distraction. It showed us and didn't make sure to tell us too in case we missed it.

Such economy was also reflected in the locations and sets, there were just enough to tell the story, which kept things feeling sequestered in a small world. The apartment Nina lived in with her mother enhanced that feeling of being trapped, which parallels Nina's feeling trapped. Trapped in a small world trying to please her mother, her director, even her goal to achieve perfection on stage.

The CGI effects used, sparsely but effectively, were amazing. One particular moment is just mind-blowing in what it shows visually and what it represents under the surface.

Portman's performance in the film is outstanding, both physically and in the range of emotions she had to express, sometimes contrasting and overlapping in instants. She every bit deserves the Oscar she won for it. The supporting cast was amazing as well, especially the most recognizable members Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis. Reading about the physical preparation that Portman and Mila Kunis did for the film just makes their performances that much more amazing. Extra thumbs up for Kunis for yet again getting in a great quality production that is miles away from That 70s Show. Any failings by cast performances would've marred this production. Everyone did their part to sell us a golden ticket on the Willy Wonka downward spiraling boat ride into Nina's madness.

Out of all the films I've watched recently I'm having the roughest time articulating why I liked this movie. I even waited a few days after watching it in order to try to collect my thoughts. I've come to the conclusion I'm just going to have watch it again. I love good mind-trip films, and this was a really good mind-trip film.  Perhaps it'll take a couple viewings to properly process, much like multiple viewings of American Psycho.

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