Black Swan (2010)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #118

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Number of Views: Two
Release date: September 1, 2010 (Venice), December 3, 2010 (US)
Sub-Genre: Psychological Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $13,000,000
Box Office: $329,398,046
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Producers: Mike Medavoy, Ari Handel, Scott Franklin, Arnold Messer, Brian Oliver
Screenplay: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin
Story: Andres Heinz
Special Effects: Conrad V. Brink Jr
Visual Effects: Dan Schrecker, Look Effects
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
Score: Clint Mansell
Non-original Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Editing: Andrew Weisblum
Studio: Cross Creek Pictures, Pheonix Pictures, Dune Entertainment
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Stars: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Ksenia Solo, Kristina Anapau, Janet Montgomery, Sebastian Stan, Toby Hemingway, Sergio Torrado, Mark Margolis, Tina Sloan, Abraham Aronofsky, Charlotte Aronofsky, Stanley B Herman

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Clint Mansell Perfection

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The swan is a most refined creature; it dissects its waters with the elegance and poise of a ballerina, never once appearing perturbed or the slight bit fretful. What the naked eye will not reveal of course is that under those seemingly still waters it is paddling wildly, its frenetic spindly sticks gyrating like a spud on a slalom. There’s no in-between, aside from the surface it masquerades upon. The cygnet has featured prominently in Ballet over the years as it translates beautifully through the expressive art of one so supple. But because of the intensity required to imitate its effortless magnificence it is a most demanding conversion to pin down with the exactitude required. Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a deeply affecting piece of cinema; as precise and as articulate as the movements of its cygnets. It explores many differing themes and at its commencement it appears serene, looking only it seems to document the tribulations of a particularly focused young ballerina (a Golden Globe and Oscar-winning sweep from the stunning Natalie Portman) and we are shown the blossoming white swan as she finds her inner self quite beautifully.

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Aronofsky isn’t just making an exposé, that would be mere child’s play to a systematic mind such as him. No, he probes deep into the psyche of his lead and that is only possible via a turn which literally blows us backwards in our seats. Portman’s is as faultless as perfect performance as I have ever been made privy to. As her legs begin cycling with increasing vigour beneath the surface, it begins to spill over with such exactness that your own legs begin to feel fatigued for her.

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Portman drew on her ballet tuition as a child for the role of Nina, training with Mary Helen Bowers (previously of the New York City Ballet) and her strenuous regime included fifteen minutes of toe movements, extensive muscle toning, and swimming a mile a day. She shed twenty pounds in order to be in tip-top physical shape and had a number of setbacks during filming. These included sustaining concussion severe enough to warrant an MRI scan and dislocating a rib during a lift, which took six weeks for her to fully restore her form. Any of the more intricate steps such as fouettes and pique turns required a body double but the lion’s share of the moves were performed by Portman herself.

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The film contains a scene which depicts same-sex lust in a way totally intimate, yet courteous and genuine. Since Viggo Mortensen and real-life spouse Maria Bello got their daily oats on the staircase in Cronenberg’s outstanding A History of Violence, there hasn’t existed a scene so raw, intense and subterraneanly sexual. The added gratuity of it being Mila Kunis that writhes around with Portman in the throes of passion is pure mental ejaculation. The two girls were pitted against each other intentionally by Aronofsky during filming in order to heighten the tension between their characters, segregating the pair and sending intimidating text messages to both to stoke up the rivalry. He also used color as an indicator of their conflicting association, with Lily (Kunis) constantly furnished in black whenever Portman is wearing white.

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Moreover it shows neither is apprehensive about the dirty work at hand, their brief union is commanding to say the absolute least. Nina’s relationship with her smothering mother Erica (the always luminous Barbara Hershey) is another factor worked brilliantly into the woven web; she is stifled and stunted by bearing the cross of her supposed carer. Aside from this fragmented mother/daughter relationship, our swan queen has to deal with constant pressurizing from her questionably intentioned tutor Thomas Leroy (the well cast and mildly creepy Vincent Cassel on fine form).

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No wonder she needed Mila to get her off with this brigade of brooding bullies ushering her into her ultimate transformation. It is said makeover which has the capacity to hit you like a palm in the windpipe; Portman’s metamorphosis is shown metaphorically with bleak brutality. The Black Swan proves the doppelgänger to its fairer counterpart, and as it substitutes its double her movements become uncultivated, erratic yet totally resolute. Her eyes lead you a merry dance, twisting and turning with python-like fluidity yet the sharpness of cheese wire. Mind-blowing, simply. Clint Mansell’s score is a variation on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, played in reverse and in a warped manner, further adding to the taut atmosphere during these scenes.

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Anybody who has watched any of Aronofsky’s previous works will be aware of his fascination with obsessive human behavior, Requiem for a Dream in particular tackled all manner of addictions from hard drugs to sugar. Though not what you could call a laugh a minute it did showcase brilliantly the way in which every last one of us is afflicted in one way or another. However, in Black Swan he centers on a solitary fixation, that of perfection and the lengths one will go to in order to attain it.

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The margin for error is miniscule and the demands and strict personal regime necessary to strive for this benchmark can push someone with existing mental concerns to such extremes that the lines begin to blur. It’s a tragic tale, striking and lingering, subtle yet hard-nosed. And with a central performance as committed and passionate as anything from recent recollection, it has a mesmerizing quality which implores you to invest. As it reaches its crescendo and our Black Swan emerges in a similar manner to how a blooming flower unfurls, it becomes profoundly disconcerting and lodges itself deep under the skin of its addressee. However, it is the way in which Aronofsky and, more critically, Portman reveal those frantically paddling legs sub aqua that ensures it lives long in the memory.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Disquieting and unpleasant; once Portman ultimately steps from her emotional chrysalis, it uses stark imagery as opposed to grue but the impact of these moments is colossal.

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