Rates: * * * 1/2
Why Did I Watch It? Found a blu ray on sale for $5 (!)
Nina Sayers is a fragile ballerina facing a personal crisis. Desperate for the lead role in an upcoming production of Swan Lake, she find herself trapped between three alpha personalities; her overbearing mother, the show’s demanding director, and a cocky frenemy who wants the role for herself. In the best tradition of movies about art, her solution is to destroy herself to achieve her goals.
Darren Aronofsky’s amped up psychological drama leans as hard on Natalie Portman as Vincent Cassel’s director does on her character. It’s a nifty bit of synergy. As Cassel tells Nina that the success of the fictional production rests entirely on her ability to portray the white AND black swan, so Aronofsky sets things up so that Portman is solely the one who has to help us connect emotionally to this story.
And she does an excellent job. Her performance is compelling, and she convincingly depicts the pressure her character is under, and shows how this leads to her stop-at-nothing mindset. The ending of the film, Cassel going ‘What did you do?’, Portman staring at the lights, saying it was perfect, is electric (and devastating), and it is the actress that has brought me all the way there.
Aronofsky himself shows the same strengths and weaknesses that I have found in his other films. While he demonstrates technical mastery with lighting, and setting, and effectively creepy special effects (there are a lot of cool things with mirrors), there is a one note-ness to his style that holds his flms back. While he is very good at creating this claustrophobic environment that causes the main character to splinter… that’s it. And a really good film would have more than that.
There are no layers here, no subtlety. Everything is black and white, and hey: it IS a film about a black and white swan. But this just means that underneath the creative visuals and slick surface, you actually have a story that is pretty basic; great art requires sacrifice, girl buys fully into this, blows herself up. And as much as I enjoy these tropes, and I really do, this has also been done a million times over, and there are better and richer examples.
But this is Aronofsky’s way. He effectively makes the same film over and over, in different settings, and some people love him for it. His films are always blunt force experiences, and your enjoyment of them may depend on how much subtext you are looking for.
This is one of his better films, and I think it’s effective, in a basic way. But it is definitely more helped by Portman’s performance, than the other way round.