Friday, January 7, 2011

Black Swan

Haiku Movie Review:

Darkly Riveting
Risks for Intelligent Eyes
Balance Reached En Pointe

**DISCLAIMER** Moderate Plot Spoilers

Black Swan is about a professional ballerina who is desperate to play the part of the Swan Queen (twin sisters, one good, one evil) in the Swan Lake Ballet. Natalie Portman plays Nina, a timid perfectionist whose life revolves solely around her career as a dancer in a New York company. Nina, whilst technically perfect, has trouble losing herself in the dark role as the Black Swan (the evil sister). Under the direction of the company's choreographer Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), Nina fights to embody the nature of the Black Swan, while barely holding her personal life together. As Nina fights to transform herself, the company's newest dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) competes for the Swan role, and thrusts her free-spirited nature in Nina's face. Nina gets more than she bargained for as her transformation into the Black Swan begins to take on a physical manifestation. Nina's struggle to address her inner demons tangos with her obsession surrounding the Black Swan part, culminating in a beautiful tryst between reality and art obsession.

Having only seen one Aronofsky film prior to this, I went into Black Swan with a cautious optimism, accompanied by a sense of trepidation. I really did NOT enjoy The Wrestler. Perhaps it was the fact that I hate on screen fighting (I close my eyes a lot in Rocky) coupled with the fact that I couldn't shield my compassion nerve from the tragic main character. Maybe it was Aranofsky's tendency to follow a non-linear sense of pacing, but it just didn't do it for me. Having been regaled of the abstract glories of Pi and Requiem for a Dream, I had no idea what to expect from Black Swan. That being said, I have a weakness for ballet movies and for Natalie Portman so it couldn't be an all around lose. Needless to say, it was a big win for me.

Aronofsky requests a certain level of intelligence from his viewers, and in so doing can take greater risks with a bigger payoff. The delicate balance between art and illness, control and obsession, is beautifully blurred as we follow the transformation of Nina from timidly cerebral into the visceral world of her art form, we too become entangled in a world lacking definition between reality and obsession, and Aronofsky refuses to explain the difference. To me, this was the main reason the film worked. It was unlike any other film I've seen with similar themes. It grants the viewer some breathing room, to decide for themselves what their reality is. Paired with beautiful dancing and stark visual realism, Aronofsky balances a tightrope between drama and horror. Though the startling moments are few and far between, they still pack a heavy punch that is in keeping with the disturbing nature of the visuals.

Natalie Portman is fully committed to the character of Nina. If there is a role that I'm going to see, everytime I see her in the future, this may be it. Her expressions and body language embody the essence of someone who is not quite whole. She is painful to watch yet you can't tear your eyes away. Mila Kunis was also impressive in the role of Lily, the free spirited dancer who lacks all the inhibitions that Nina has cultivated. She oozes sensuality, and is aware enough to hold back in keeping with the film's subtle nature. Overall the film was well cast, and acted. The dialogue was simple without being insipid. The subtext was almost completely left to body language and visual device.

What made the biggest impression on me was the film's sychronicity with Swan Lake. Watching this movie was like being at the ballet. The same suspension of disbelief is brought in, but part way through you're so swept up in the majesty of the story that you forget that the dancers may be on wires. The balance of all attributes was a delicately woven spider web. It was one of the more beautiful and starkly contrasted films I've seen in a while. It kept my mind riveted on it far after we left the theatre, and I'm still dealing with some of the more vivid images. I'd give this film a 4.5 / 5. If I was the only person who would ever watch this film again I'd give it a five, however I think that anyone who doesn't have my blind appreciation for Natalie and ballet may not be quite as riveted as I was. Also, the balance between genres is bound to cause a few people frustration.

**MAJOR SPOILER ALERT** Read on at your own risk. I mean it, I'm going to ruin the end!! **

At the end of the film, Aronofsky chooses to fade to white. I have to say, this is possibly the most ballsy thing I have witnessed in any film I've watched in the past two years. If you know how Swan Lake ends, you can imagine how the film finishes. The fade to white is a pretty serious statement on the justification of the means by which Nina meets her demise. It plays with the idea that in becoming the Black Swan, Nina has conquered her demons and is therefore set free to become the White Swan in the after life. To me, this also makes the statement that the movie completes its purpose with perfection, and instead of fading into the black unknown, makes its way into the white light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not sure I agree with this choice, but it sure made me think.

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