Black Swan: A Review

If you are unsure about seeing Black Swan because you just can’t tell what it is from the trailers and you don’t know if you want to sit through a movie about ballerinas, please allow me to kick you off of that fence and into a seat at your favorite movie theater.

I felt the same way—not sure if this was the film I wanted to drop my money on until the moment I bought the ticket. After all, I respect Natalie Portman, but I’m not a big fan. I always felt that her best performance was in The Professional, and somehow all of that pre-pubescent stormy potential seemed to fizzle out after George Lucas got his hands on her. Like thunderheads that only produce a drizzle.

But now that I’ve seen Black Swan, I will be seriously pissed off if she doesn’t take the Oscar for best actress. It’s a hell of a performance, with a broad emotional spectrum.

So Natalie wasn’t the reason I gave Black Swan a chance, it was director Darren Aronofsky, who had intrigued me with the cosmic black humor of Pi, knocked my socks off with the mystic visual poetry of The Fountain, and repeatedly impressed me with the gritty, uncontrived darkness he evoked from his actors in Requiem for a Dream, and The Wrestler.

After Black Swan, it dawned on me that this guy has quietly and over many years become one of my favorite directors. Right up there with Guillermo Del Torro and Peter Jackson. Black Swan takes the tragic character study of The Wrestler and saturates it with the spiritual dimensions of The Fountain. There’s plenty of tension, mounting suspense, some unsettling physical elements that will make you squirm, and some sexy moments that you can almost smell. It works on many levels without ever losing coherence. Maybe the highest compliment I can pay it is that it turns on the same parts of my brain as Pan’s Labyrinth. This is magical realism at its finest.

I’m not going to get into how beautiful the choreography, music and cinematography are. That’s all a given. The heart of the film is the journey we take with the lead character as she struggles against the pressures of her art, and pushes herself to extremes when that art demands that she transcend the boundaries within which she has already achieved excellence to move into new realms of spontaneity, embracing her dark side on the stage and in life, so that she can play the roles of both the white swan and the black in a production of Swan Lake.

I’ve never seen a more intense depiction of an artist getting in touch with her shadow side.

And the way Aronofsky straddles the line between what’s real and what’s a delusion, what events will have life changing consequences vs. what may be “just” a profound interior psychic experience… well, that’s something I strive for in my fiction, and this is how a master storyteller does it. It’s disorienting in the best possible way, because the uncertainty keeps you emotionally invested, while the fantasia that slowly unfolds over the course of the story spins you out of a character driven drama and into a beautiful horror movie with absolute grace. Here there be monsters and miracles.

Go see it now.

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