The psychological thriller might be the single greatestgenre for a director who wants to show off his or her creative side. More thanjust about any other genre, this is the one that offers the most creativepossibilities, which is why it’s always so disappointing when someone screws itup. But veteran director Darren Aronofsky is a master filmmaker at the top ofhis form and he clearly knows how to weave insanity into a compellingnarrative. And what really shows his talent here is that he’s able to do itwithout ever going overboard.
Not that the movie isn’t going to freak you out, because ittotally will. It features one of the most graphic and disturbing human bodytransformations since the one that played out in my head when I was readingKafka’s “The Metamorphosis” in college. And if you haven’t read that, it’s also a little like Jeff Goldblum’s transformation in The Fly, but this time thankfully with less vomiting.
Natalie Portman plays a shy woman-child named Nina Sayerswho was raised by an overbearing mother and who has been chosen for the leadrole in an intricate ballet called “Swan Lake,” where she’ll play the characterof the good White Swan and the evil Black Swan. Nina brings more than her shareof insecurities to the role, and when her zealous director pushes her harderand harder, playing on her insecurities and fears it causes the beginnings of amajor mental break.
Complicating matters is the entrance of Lily (Mila Kunis, who you may remember as the voice of Meg on Family Guy), arival performer who seems to offer ballet director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel)more of the danger and sexiness he’s looking for. And during all this time Ninais suffering under the oppressive control of her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), a former ballerinaherself who is now living vicariously through her daughter. And we all rememberwhat Axl Rose said about vicarious existence!
Aronofsky makes sure there’s no confusion about why Ninasuffers from mental instability, and it’s a good thing too, because the visionsthat she has in the movie are some of the most freaky and disturbing of any inrecent memory. And my favorite part is that the movie is told completely fromNina’s perspective, which adds a brilliant element of mystery to whether or notwhat’s happening is real or only in Nina’s head.
I have a huge soft spot for psychological thrillers, evenwhen they’re not that great. In Dreamsand Event Horizon weren’t suchpopular successes but they’re two of my favorite movies of the 90s. Horrormovies, anyway. Then there are countless great ones, like Memento and Donnie Darko, to say nothing of the classics like The Silence of the Lambs, Rear Window, Taxi Driver, Jacob’sLadder, The Machinist, the list goes on. And Psycho has been my favorite movie ever made for more than a decade now.Unfortunately it’s also one of the top 3 genres which have the most screwupsfor each classic, after horror and science fiction.
Black Swan is not amovie for everyone and it’s definitely not for the squeamish, but it’s apowerful and fascinating journey through the mind of someone who’s been driven tothe edge by the forces around her, and it takes a director like Aronofsky toreally flesh out the story, written by a couple of novice screenwriters, by theway, and bring us probably the most unique and thought provoking movie of theyear. Bravo!
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