Thursday, April 28, 2011

Black Swan

I think Darren Aronofsky has a lot of talent, but I wasn't sure if he really had a particular style until I saw this. It seemed to take equal inspiration from both Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler (as well as maybe a bit from David Lynch's work), and sort of clarified what he does in my eyes, which is make well-crafted, intense human dramas that I like but don't fall in love with. I could point out similarities between Black Swan and both of those previous works of his. It has Requiem's bleak frenetic energy, trippy visuals, and horrifying use of female sexuality to cause discomfort. And like The Wrestler it has a unique, memorable performance in the lead role; a person playing someone with incredible gifts in a physically demanding profession struggling with inner turmoil. There's also plenty of behind-the-back tracking shots, which seem kind of easy to think up but are still interesting to watch. The movie's different too, though. The easiest way for me to describe it would be an art house horror film, which is a pretty uncommon pair of descriptors to my knowledge. It's not really one of my favorite movies of last year, but I definitely respect the skill that went into making it and the general effectiveness of the end result.

I haven't seen any of the other nominees for Best Actress so I can't really say whether Natalie Portman should have won, but it was obviously an impressive performance. There's been a little controversy over how much of the dancing she actually performed, but even if she needed a double for some of the most difficult moves, that's pretty secondary to the amount of effort she put into training for the film, and even more importantly the actual performance. Nina is a gifted dancer who's nonetheless seen as too controlled for the black swan side of the swan queen rule, and Portman's work portraying her anxiety and pain as she tries to find the ability inside herself to let go and really be the black swan, is extremely impressive. A lot of that comes across in just her face while she's dancing, so even if those shots are her head stuck on a double's body, it doesn't lessen what she's doing. It's draining to watch the whole thing, and the sweat and tears she poured into it are obvious.

Barbara Hershey players Nina's controlling mother, adding another variable onto the pile that weighs down on her as she stresses endlessly under the responsibility, and does a good job of being antagonistic while still clearly wanting what's best for her. Winona Ryder and Mila Kunis play two other dancers, the former an aging star being forced into retirement and the latter a new arrival and challenger for Nina, and they both do good jobs playing characters she sees herself in. She aspires to be like Ryder and sees in Kunis a wild side she needs to find a way to tap into, and the way the plot plays with both of these aspects in a way that you're often not sure what's really happening is key to the story's success as a thriller. Vincent Cassel is in charge of the company of dancers, and he does a good job portraying a character you're never really sure about. He tries to use sex to help Nina get a grasp on both parts, and the way you never really know if he's taking advantage or just using an unorthodox method of coaching makes for some really interesting moments.

The film gets more and more bizarre as it goes on, as it's hard to tell how much of the whole thing is just inside Nina's head, and some of the imagery gets truly odd, often to the brink of laughable but never quite getting there for me. It helps that it's so effectively creepy most of the time, though some of the computer-aided shots don't work as well as others. Much like Requiem, things get pretty relentless by the time of the climax, and it's almost exhausting by the time you reach it. Aronofsky has real skill with building the intensity of a film to an almost unbearable degree, which makes me a bit disappointed that he isn't directing the next Wolverine movie, just because I'd like to see what he could do with a straight up action flick. The ending definitely reminded me of The Wrestler, which might be construed as a spoiler if you've seen it and know what I mean, but much like that film, the important thing is the journey, with what comes after not ultimately mattering to the scope of the story. A flawed movie to be sure, but definitely a compelling one.

No comments: