Natalie Portman carries this film with an intensity and vulnerability that has earned her all the accolades you’ve been hearing this awards season. As I haven’t seen the rest of the nominated films yet (that is what this next week is about) I can’t say she’s the best, but I can say she is impressive. The cast as a whole is strong. Hershey, in particular, gets to let loose the quintessential Stage Mother.
The movie itself is barely definable, but utterly riveting, thanks to Aronofsky’s deft hand. It is a suspense horror at the ballet. However, don’t think Phantom of the Opera where a young girl is preyed upon. Black Swan is about art, truth, drive, and ambition. And a tad about child rearing if I really think about it. Aronosfsky loves these themes that thread through his films from Pi forward. His story-telling is hypnotic and compelling, even at its ugliest moments. Black Swan is at once brash and subtle. The transitions and revelations build in pace and clarity through the film giving the audience a chance to notice clues very early that the heroine misses; voyeurism at its most effective.
Personally, I put Aronofsky on the shelf with other favorite directors Tom Tykwer, Luc Besson, Joss Whedon, Peter Greenaway, Sam Rami, and Pedro Almodovar. Storytellers all. What will be interesting is to see how after The Wrestler and Black Swan, Aronofsky moves into Wolverine 2. Rami made this transition with Spidey quite deftly. When you focus on story, genre is almost moot. However, money and freedom can corrupt.
As a complete aside, I had a number of odd moments while watching the film that should not be misunderstood as diminishing it, but rather as how strange my brain can be at times! The first was that this is the film you could make if Buffy Summers and Faith had gone into ballet together. The second was that this could make a wonderful double-feature with The Company or, potentially, Suspiria or Carrie. At some point I will post some of my favorite unlikely-but-wonderful double-features; that is for another day.