Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Premise: A dancer (Natalie Portman) descends into paranoia and madness as she buries herself in the lead role of the ballet Swan Lake.
What Works: Black Swan is a film working in many dimensions at once, with each of these dimensions intertwined with each other. Firstly, Black Swan is an exploration of the relationship between art and the artist. This is done very well as the storyline of Swan Lake becomes the storyline of the dancers and their director. And while this parallel is fairly obvious, the filmmakers realize that and move on, letting the narrative play out while focusing on getting the best and most interesting dramatic substance out of the material. Secondly, Black Swan is a study of ambition and the pursuit of perfection. This is where Portman’s performance impresses the most, as she embodies a person who has forgone all other needs in the pursuit of perfection. The story of Black Swan puts Portman’s character through an emotional and physical gauntlet; watching the emaciated Portman literally rehearse her body to death and observing how the deterioration of her body occurs in tandem with the collapse of her mind is a frightening and tragic display. Lastly, Black Swan is a tale of lust, jealousy and sexual awakening. The commitment that Portman’s character makes to her art is all consuming, restricting her own emotional development, which has the ironic effect of limiting her ability as an artist because she is unfamiliar with her own feelings and desires. This mix of elements makes Black Swan a fascinating film and the technical mastery that Aronofsky brings to the material is an effective mix of art house style with elements of coming of age stories and horror films.
What Doesn’t: The very ending of Black Swan does not entirely make sense. Those who are familiar with the work of Darren Aronofsky can probably anticipate where the film is going but newcomers to Aronofsky’s work may be shocked by the bleakness of the film.
Bottom Line: Black Swan is a great movie with a wonderful performance by Natalie Portman. Although it is not always an easy film to watch, it is a fascinating look at lust, artistry, and madness.
Episode: #320 (December 26, 2010)