Massawyrm calls BLACK SWAN an incredible work of damaged beauty
Published at: Dec. 3, 2010, 7:21 p.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
There is no doubt in my mind that BLACK SWAN is one of the very best films of the year. It will proudly sit atop a number of best of the year lists and reap numerous critic awards and stride proudly into Oscar season with an armload of trophies. And it will have earned every single one. This is an incredible film. Dark, masochistic, sexual, and most importantly, existential. It is everything Darren Aronofsky has been trying for since he first exploded on the scene with PI, but has always fallen short of (even when the film is incredibly good); everything he does well he shows us here to have mastered. And, having assembled a perfect cast, he goes on to make his masterpiece.
The first thing that strikes you about BLACK SWAN is that there is something almost exploitive at times about the film’s sexuality; probing uncomfortable depths while still somehow elegantly straddling the line between the tasteful and the tawdry. While shots linger on panty-clad ass and follow exploring hands across taut flesh, Aronofsky always exercises enough restraint to keep the sexual energy high without actually showing you a goddamned thing. Neither of the leads in this film would be breaking new ground by bearing skin, and yet nary a nipple nor an ass cheek is to be seen anywhere in it. He makes the lurid artistic; he makes it erotic without it ever feeling like over produced softcore.
Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t bother keeping track of nudity – or mentioning it, for that matter – but what Aronofsky does here is make one of the best films about a woman protagonist in years, without ever sacrificing the femininity of his characters (as is often the case when male directors make films about women but end up writing them as men with girl parts). But then it occasionally feels like he is about to objectify them. And yet, that becomes the point. He never has to titillate you with nudity; he lets his actresses seduce you with their eyes and their (still somewhat clothed) bodies – one of the very things Natalie Portman’s Nina Sayers is aiming for herself.
Sayers is a cold, closed off, naïve little girl, trapped in the body of a 28 year old woman who is slowly running out of time on her dream. When the featured ballerina in her company needs to be replaced, Nina is the obvious choice for the role of the Swan Queen. But she lacks the passion needed for the role of her dark alternate, the Black Swan, and despite her talent finds a rival in the less skillful, but entirely uninhibited Lily (Mila Kunis.) Thus begins her exploration into herself to find her own soul.
On the surface the film is a dark, brooding sister-piece to THE WRESTLER, illustrating the slow destruction of a woman’s body for the sake of beautiful motion. But underneath its sinister exterior, Aronofsky is really grappling with something more elemental; he’s trying to expose the beating, bloody heart of the artist. BLACK SWAN isn’t so much a film about obsession, jealousy and self-destruction as it about finding the dark places inside ourselves in order to touch an unrefined piece of the universe as to bring it back and forge it into art. Nina wants desperately to be an artist, but she simply doesn’t know how to be one. Art isn’t about precision; it is about emotion. And that theme permeates even the smallest details of the film. This isn’t just about the physical breakdown of a ballerina; it is about the mental and spiritual abuse one performs on oneself being an artist.
That journey is chronicled in dramatic, pained and even bloody detail throughout every beautifully uncomfortable moment of this film.
To say that this is Natalie Portman’s greatest performance is to do it disservice. While she has shown immense promise since we first laid eyes on her at the age of 13, she’s never quite had a role so primal as to allow her to dig this deep. This is the role of a lifetime, that once in a career gift that you grab onto with both hands. Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley stole my heart in NEVER LET ME GO, but this goes well beyond where those two were allowed to and not only proves to be the best female performance of the year, but quite possibly the very best performance, period. Portman has officially left behind her previous career and stepped gloriously into the realm of legend. Much like Nina sought for herself, Portman tapped into whatever it is that lay deep within her and brought back art – perfection. She is transcendent and elevates the film to greatness.
There is little else to say about this film except to demand that you see it immediately. It is an incredible work of damaged beauty; a soulful, deep meditation on the very essence of art and its relationship to the artist. This film will be taught in film schools ten years from now and for good reason. See it. Now.
Until next time friends,