I’ve been very excited about Black Swan since I first heard about it around the time The Fountain was out. It seems to be one of those films that have had a long genesis and I was hoping it wasn’t going to consequently be like The Fountain, another film with a long time in development and a flawed but brilliant piece of work. Thankfully when I went to go see it last weekend this proved not to be the case. Black Swan is dark, brutal but is potentially Darren Aronofsky’s best piece of work.
It is certainly one of the most relentless films I’ve watched, which coming from a director with a back catalogue that includes the claustrophobic π and Requiem For A Dream is quite a statement. Black Swan tells the story of a ballerina, Nina, played by Natalie Portman whose pursuit of perfectionism leads to her psychologically downfall. The latter third of the film is unrelenting in its misery. There’s seemingly no escape for Nina as even her homelife is dominated by her psychotic mother and the pressure she applies on Nina to succeed.
The film is quite brave tackling themes like self-harm and the female orgasm. But also by using Nina as our viewpoint the film plays with the use of an unreliable narrator. An unreliable narrator always seems to divide audiences: you either feel cheated that what you witnessed might not have been true or you go with it, accepting that the subjective experience for the character is true and the unreality of the events doesn’t change the meaning for the character but adds to it.
The central performance by Natalie Portman is extraordinary and I fully anticipate that she’ll add to the Golden Globe with an Academy Award. Her training for the 12 months prior to filming certainly gave Natalie a convincing sense of flexibility and the use of visual effects certainly make it seem like Natalie is doing a lot of very technical ballet. Elsewhere the visual effects are quite subtle, the mirror shots are very good and I assume they must have been created using green screen. The film is very strong visually, particularly as it develops into the final third, so is worth seeing in the cinema.
It probably isn’t a fault of the film to criticise slightly the portrayal of mental health. A film has to tell a story so it isn’t surprising that most films with a theme of mental health go overboard with the depiction. The themes of self-harm, the pursuit of perfectionism and the inability to form real social connections felt like more genuine moments than warped psychotic visions which form only a minority of psychological problems in adults.
Whilst I probably need to see Black Swan again to be confident in calling it Aronofsky’s best to date it is certainly next to Requiem For A Dream. Without spoiling anything it seems like Aronofsky agrees with the film ending with the line “It was perfect.”