Friday, December 3, 2010

Check It. Black Swan [Guest Post].

Perfection in art. Is it possible? Is it the purpose? Is it worth the pursuit? Darren Aronofsky's new film, Black Swan, shows the dangers of tempting that all too precious and fickle bitch that is "perfection." And while modern art eschews the perfect, a classical art like ballet has the balls to think it can achieve such a peak. Aronofsky has reached high and been found wanting in his previous film The Fountain, but here he seems to find a bastardized middle ground between that ambition and the more down-and-dirty (Dardenne Brothers-ripped-off) style of The Wrestler. It's pretty strange and powerful.

Still, Black Swan, like The Wrestler before it, is dominated by its performances. Natalie Portman occupies the flawed hero role that Mickey Rourke played so well before. But instead of drugs, alcohol and old age being the Achilles' heel of our hero, Portman's has to wrestle with paranoia, insecurity and the pains of pursuing perfection. And she is incredible. She plays Nina Sayers, a young, fragile ballerina who lives with her mother in a small New York apartment. This season, her company, under the direction of the vicious Vincent Cassell, has chosen to produce Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. The ballet is about a White Princess who falls in love with a Prince but when a magic spell turns her into a swan, the Prince falls in love with another princess who resembles the White Princess, disguised in black. The White Princess is devastated and kills herself. The parallels between Nina and the White Princess are immediately obvious, and (spoilers! [not really though]) the story unfolds just like the ballet. But the trip is INTENSE.

Nina's paranoid world is filled with doppelgangers, monsters and twisted visions. As the film moves closer to opening night, the line between reality and delusion becomes more stressed and blurred, ramped up in graphic scenes and drama-filled tension. One real-world monster is Lily, the newest member of the company and San Franciscan free-spirit, played by Mila Kunis. She's Nina's "Black Swan," or at least Nina perceives her that way. One night, in an attempt to escape from under the overbearing eye of her mother, Nina elopes with Lily for a good ol' drug-fueled New York clubbing experience. The night ends with one of the most ... ahem, passionate scenes in the film (wink wink! say no more!). It is INTENSE. And when the ballet is finally performed, Portman fights off demons—onstage and off—in order to truly transforms into the Black Swan of the title. The last 20 minutes of the picture are ... well, INTENSE.

My redundancy is not for lack of vocabulary (maybe a little) but because the film is a bit one note in a similar way. I felt uneasy while watching Nina with the first crack of her toes onscreen and it only intensified as the film progressed. My first sigh of relief only came when the credits rolled. Which is impressive.
I just felt a little cheated being so physically shaken while feeling little of an emotional response.

Still, it is INTENSE. And Natalie Portman, though not perfect, gives an incredible performance. Watching her transformation is more than worth the price of admission. Just be prepared for some "boo!"s and "eww!"s.

Black Swan
opens today at the Landmark, located at 10850 Pico Blvd. in West L.A., and the Arclight, located 6360 W. Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. The film will be in wider release by Dec. 17.

-- Daren Sprawls

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