Owing more to Polanksi than Powell/Pressburger, BLACK SWAN is a sumptuous, at times raunchy, but completely intoxicating take on madness, lust, and the passion of dance.
One key to appreciating the scope of Aronovky’s brashness in the film lies, I think, in how he chooses to display the credits at the end of the film. Missed by quite a few critics I spoke with, he lists the key characters both in terms of their names and the role they play within the metaphorical Ballet (princess, queen, etc.) Rather than shying away from the allegory, he makes it explicit, in black and white, practically demanding that you appreciate that this rich, multilayered work is grounded within a central, overriding myth exemplified by the story of SWAN LAKE. The structure in part reminded me of what Coppola tried to accomplish with GODFATHER III, crosscutting between a narrative and a meta-narrative, in the former case between an Opera and the goings on of the central character.
This type of technique isn’t new, but it’s extremely difficult to pull off effectively (as evidence by the beautiful failure of Coppola’s work). By any measure Aronovsky’s film shouldn’t work – the dancing should look silly, the costumes over the top, the story too obvious, the mood too melodramatic and the archetypes simply annoying or two dimensional. Instead, down to the last moments, the film is a joyous spectacle, avoiding all these pitfalls to create something remarkable and original.
Portman’s multifaceted performance provides a clinic on contemporary acting prowess – she’s never been better, and immediately rockets to a top contender at Awards season. The rest of the cast is also terrific, but it’s Portman who anchors the film completely, giving such effortless range and strength of movement that it’s a joy to watch unfold.
The visuals are integral to the tale, and the subtle (leading to not-so-subtle) use of visual effects to augment the reality and madness of the characters are dexterously placed throughout the film. After his triumph with the WRESTLER, which amusingly is the “quieter” of the two films, Aronovsky demonstrates complete control of his craft.
From the earliest scenes to the (inevitable but no less striking) conclusion, we’re whisked into a dreamlike cinematic vision of these filmmakers. The trance is intoxicating, the results unforgettable. BLACK SWAN will leave you shattered. While it’s a challenging film, it’s a masterwork that is in the end astonishingly successful.