“Black Swan” is macabre indulgent crap. Although exquisitely crafted, it’s ultimately a waste of 2 hours. Director Darren Aronofsky’s touch is so heavy handed and blunt in his tale of spiraling meltdown. Natalie Portman is powerful as Nina, and will win an Oscar. “Black Swan” is classic tragedy, but lacks eloquence and resonance. Paradoxically, Aronofsky’s sledgehammer like narrative overwhelms the elusive grace and refinement of ballet. I admired Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler”, also a tale of deceptive physicality and discipline. However, something is amok here. Even as literal metaphor of “Swan Lake”, “Black Swan” morphs as a very unpleasant experience. Portman’s Nina hauntingly says, “I just want to be perfect.” This echoes throughout as tortured obsession. Aside from the magnificent prowess of dance, the screenplay by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John McLaughlin is unrelenting waves of corporeal rage and suffering.
The hand held camera shots in “Black Swan” give it a gritty and austere feel. Natalie Portman trained nearly 2 years to prepare for the role of Nina Sayers. Her protruding ribs in her breast are scary authenticity. Her gaunt persona captures the rigid and wounded spirited Nina, who is an impeccable technician, but fearful of risking the freedom of her art. As the story unfolds, perhaps her instincts were warranted. Portman is riveting and nuanced. She enrolls us into Nina’s life despite Aronofsky’s opaque narrative strokes. Nina suffers blistering nerve rashes and mangled toes. Nina is the dedicated ballerina, who is finally called to audition for the role of the Swan Queen in “Swan Lake”.
Director Thomas (darkly charming Vincent Cassel) knows that Nina can embody the White Swan, but questions whether she can summon the dark fire of the Black Swan. Thomas replaces his aging lover– prima ballerina Beth (used and tragic Winona Ryder), in his envisioning of “Swan Lake”. Nina is aware that she may be auditioning for more than just the lead. Her obsessive stage Mom Erica (dramatically taut Barbara Hershey), also fears the inevitable. Erica is eerily controlling, and as a former dancer proxies her life for her daughter Nina. Here Aronofsky brilliantly exposes Nina as one who forsakes greatness for perfection. However, I think he forfeits this thread in the catharsis. Enter Mila Kunis’s Lily, the Black Swan of the tale. Lily is the talented untamed dancer, willing to risk all in life and in dance. Lily lacks the precision of Nina, but possesses unbridled passion and sensuality.
Lily and Nina are logical rivals, and lyrical Yin and Yang of the same person. If you are a fan of YouTube, you are aware of their erotic Sapphic tryst. It is captivating; however, like much of “Black Swan” this occurs as manipulation on the part of the director. The concluding arc of “Black Swan” lost me. Half way through, we get that Nina is battling for her own sanity. To that end, Portman is amazing and displays poignant suffering and muted joy. The performances are grand. Cassel is creepy duplicity. Kunis is awesome as the maverick dancer living on the edge.
I think “Black Swan” fails despite great effort in exposing the perfection myth. Yes, perfection is manifested in youth, beauty, and talent. There is perfection in icons like James Dean and Bruce Lee. The tragedy of these icons was that the possibility of greatness was forsaken too soon. “Black Swan” celebrates the pursuit of perfection, not the legacy of greatness—of altering and inspiring the world. Perfection is misguided and fleeting pursuit. Greatness is the game worth playing and living. “Black Swan” seems to miss this distinction, and that is a little sad.