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Review: Black Swan

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There is absolutely no denying that Darren Aronofsky is one of modern film’s masters. He’s only five films into his career and already he’s established himself as one of the best filmmakers in Hollywood. While he can be hit or miss thanks to the fact that he likes to take big bites into the human psyche in his films, it’s obvious that Aronofsky is one of the few directors out there who truly stands out. Black Swan, his latest film, may be his best yet and is easily the proof (if anyone still needed it) that he is a great director.

Black Swan
Director: Darron Aronofsky
Release Date: December 3, 2010
Rating: R

It’s hard to explain what Black Swan is about because it’s one of those films that is about so much, including film itself. However, it’s easy to explain its plot as it is one of the most basic around. A young dancer, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) finally gets her big break when she is tapped to play both the White and Black Swans in Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake. She is, of course, perfect for the White Swan thanks to her technical skill and control, but her artistic director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), claims it is these attributes that make her Black Swan terrible. She must learn to let go of herself and feel in order to truly master the part. Meanwhile, a newcomer to the dance troupe, Lily (Mila Kunis), seems to be constantly challenging Nina’s spot as the prima ballerina.

Of course this is just the plot of the film, and as with all Aronofsky movies, the plot is simply there to keep you watching, the true meaning is in the characters, the filming and the filmmaking itself. Black Swan‘s themes swirl around perfection and reality, teasing us with the lucid day dreams and psychosis of the crumbling Nina as she clamors to be the perfect ballerina. The metaphors and outcome may be obvious to anyone watching the film, especially when they are so blatantly and visual stated. However, Aronofsky’s masterful development of everything that occurs in the film makes them all the more powerful so that by the time the end rolls around you’re almost fully accepting that Nina’s hallucinations are fact and that the movie’s conclusion is the only way that it could ever truly end.

Thankfully Aronofsky avoids most of the issues he ran into with The Fountain by keeping Black Swan grounded in the reality of his last film The Wrestler and his seminal masterpiece Requiem for a Dream. In Black Swan we see the perfect balance of the director’s two sides: physical and metaphysical. Nina’s decent into madness (or is it perfection?) is a watchers dream, and what better venue for a commentary on the audience as a voyeur than ballet — one of the only forms of athletic pursuit where anything less than perfection is unacceptable. Aronofsky presents Nina on the path towards that impossible perfection and he presents her story to us as a way of showing the only true way perfection can take place. It’s absolutely riveting.

As is Portman. We’ve had a year filled with amazing male performances, but I was having trouble finding an actress who really and truly stood out this year. Portman has done just that in Black Swan. This is the type of performance that takes you from actor to thespian (not to sound too highbrow). Her conviction to a role that must have been beyond challenging is amazing, and her performance is only outshined by Aronofsky’s fabulous, tight and revealing direction and camerawork. Complimenting her powerfully restrained performance is a masterful score from Clint Mansell that beautifully blends Tchaikovsky’s original music into new pieces that sound familiar, but work far better than simply sampling the originals would have.

What we have in Black Swan is simply one of the best films of the year. I am hard-pressed to even find a moment of the film I didn’t like, though I’m sure there are complaints you could find out there. With Aronofsky’s next film being the next Wolverine movie this might be our last chance to see the true Aronofsky before big budgets corrupt his vision. It’s a rare breed that can maintain their skill while turning blockbuster, but if this is Aronofsky’s final bow as the director we know now then what a way to go out.

Black Swan is a lesson in great film making, acting, score, and direction. From Aronofsky’s opening to the stunning close, it’s hard to find fault in the film and even harder to not get sucked into its cerebral and enthralling story.

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Spectacular

9.4

Supercharged by the performance of any actor's lifetime from Portman, Black Swan crackles with the lurid intensity of the greatest exploitation experiences. Should his voice be quashed by big-budget studio filmmaking, Aronofsky's fanbase can at least find great consolation that he has left them with an incontrovertible tour de force.

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.