Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Black Swan (2010) – Review

Black Swan is intense, enthralling and beautiful – yet jagged, fracturing and unique. The first thing that stands out about the film – Darren Aronofsky’s vision – is how fluid the camera work is, and how compelling the visual display is for the audience. The opening scene is powerful and seduces the audience completely – it is visually the epitome of the Black Swan (from the ballet), and thus the film announces itself as something special right off. Aronofsky’s narrative is interestingly layered with Nina’s story mirroring in the story of Swan Lake, which also happens to be the ballet she is performing. Her transformation –very visual and jarring, overwrought with tragic foreshadowing – pulls the audience in only to terrorize them with the nightmares of a crumbling perception. Nina’s story is one of achieving perfection, no matter the cost. Her journey is overrun by emotion and unabating stress, which oppresses and scalpts her while intriguing and menacing the viewer. The characters outside the ballet are all archetypes of characters from the ballet (for example Lily, the sexual seductive newcomer to the troupe is The Black Swan character) creating an interesting dichotomy. The viewer is led down an increasingly unreliable path, never sure what is real and what is imagined, and yet to the skill of Aronofsky the narrative is all the more gripping as it proceeds, despite being mostly false. Aronofsky’s style is also unflinching and graphic, which makes the film more shocking (when it needs to be) and more impactful. There is an emotional journey not only for the characters but for the audience as well. The aesthetics of the film, while beautiful and interesting, are employed not for artistic reasons alone, but to fully immerse the audience into the experience, which is what makes the film work so well. However, the narrative may alienate some viewers. This is not a story of perseverance in the feel-good sense (when it easily could have been, and maybe starts out that way a little). There is no happy ending (and did we expect there to be one?). This is a visceral experience. A film to be felt – to be interacted with – a film to let yourself be given over to – to accept the raw emotions and flow with it – much as the opening invites the audience to do. Black Swan plays off the viewer and succeeds to its highest degree when said viewer submits.

Technical and acting achievements: Aronofsky is a master of visual suspense, employing tragic and scary elements into his narrative that lure each viewer in, enthralling them with fine performances, deep characters and exquisite visuals, only to shock them with moments of sheer anxiety and panic. This film is some of his finest work (and my favorite of his films). Cinematographer Matthew Libatique is also a star of this film. His camerawork and lighting are amazing and beautiful (if not the best of the year with Eduardo Serra’s work in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1). Clint Mansell’s score fits the narrative well. It captivates the audience, puts them on edge and ambushes them (and in many cases freaks them out accompanying the visuals and narrative tension). However, it is the music from Swan Lake that has the most emotional resonance and impact (I had forgotten how beautiful and tragic the pieces of music are from the ballet). The production design by Therese DePrez is also top-notch, being both minimalistic but specifically detailed to fit the characters. The acting in the film is exceptional. Mila Kunis, Barbara Hersey and especially Vincent Cassel are wonderful in their supporting roles. But, the film belongs to the performance of Natalie Portman. She is meek, shy and stiff only to explode with sexuality, hysteria and malice – it is quite a transformation.

Black Swan grabs the viewer, twists them until the strain is almost too much and then lets them go fading to white. 9/10

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