Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Achievement of Perfection

Review: Black Swan

      Nina Sayers farewell remark to The Gentleman sums up Black Swan as beautifully as the artistry of the ballerina dancers ... "I was perfect."  Indeed, Darren Aronofsky, you were perfect.
      From a purely thematic guise, Black Swan is a film that delves deep into the corridors of obsession.  In so doing, the prominently featured protagonist, Nina Sayers—played by Natalie Portman with such stunning authority—wanders down a seminal path of permanent foes: good vs. evil.  A true visual alchemist, Darren Aronofsky effortlessly blends the lines of good and evil into chiaroscuro—symbolized by the ambitious production of Swan Lake, which requires a single, mega-talented ballerina to adapt both a White and Black Swan routine into their performance.  Immediately, this dynamic engenders an examination of innocence vs. contempt and more startlingly, complacency vs. perfection.  Despite the lack of continuity or intricate focus, Aronofsky's exploration of each of these disparate motifs provides a deafening portrait of the human psyche.
      The title Black Swan may invoke pretensions of one-dimensionality, but in actuality, Black Swan is understood more as a riveting mosaic of opposing entities.  The complex performance of Natalie Portman's character Nina is captivating on both visually technical and philosophically laced fronts.  From the meticulously rendered dance sequences and Nina's spartan lifestyle—living, sleeping and breathing the life of an obsessively ambitious ballerina—to the internalized self-discovery, Portman's performance is thoroughly appreciable.  Nina's sole aspiration in life is to attain perfection as a ballerina.  However, the attainment of perfection can only be realized by undertaking a metamorphosis, which requires equal parts innocence and darkness—parts inherently at odds with one another.  Aronofsky's examination of this path for perfection leads to a finite discovery ... one which this spoiler-free review will not lament.  Unequivocally though, Portman deserves an Oscar nod for Best Actress in a leading role. 
      The classic use of the foil trope is executed with exacting shrillness by the character of Lily who is played competently by Mila Kunis.  Lily is a perfectly materialized adversary to the disciplined innocence of Nina.  Aronofsky's inclusion of Lily is largely meant to enhance the thematic ambition of the film.  Kunis is purposefully constrained within a narrow and darkly adventurous infrastructure—she is at one point the antithetical personification of Nina, but ultimately, the vigorous embodiment of Nina's unrelenting pursuit.  Such a blurring of identifiable lines is what makes Black Swan a difficult project to undertake.  Yet, there is not one deteriorating or glaring weakness to Aronofsky's vivid tale.  Few directors alive today can masterfully captain such an ambitious film. Aronofsky; however, accepts this challenge, as he demonstrates both a command of simplistic exposition and complex imagery.
      Black Swan gains its momentum not merely from visual grandeur, but more convincingly, from the summation of strong, infinitely competent performances.  The third praiseworthy performance is authored by Vincent Cassel's character, Thomas Leroy.  Is the artistic Director Leroy (or The Gentleman) a tyrannical, lewd dictator of impossible perfection or an inspiring, visual genius?  The answer to either of these questions depends on the extent of the viewer's inferences, as Aronofsky is attempting to color a landscape with diverse layers.  Cassel, an accomplished actor with a robust skillset, completely morphs into the strangely compelling and redeeming character of Thomas Leroy.  
      Aiding Cassel's performance and the entire cast is the enchanting score.  Well-paced films benefit from both strong editing and an auspicious score.  Clint Mansell's beautifully rendered score is certainly Oscar-worthy.  Although Mansell has been disqualified from Oscar's contention because of an abundance of unoriginal music, his fantastic command of the overall tone and mood of the film is expertly realized. 
      A film endorsement requires a critical assessment of variable elements.  Black Swan overwhelmingly succeeds at identifying these elements—immense visual depth, expert cinematography, extremely competent acting, and austere exposition.  If you're looking for a film that feeds your intellectual appetite, stimulates your visual and oratorical sensors, and implores you to evaluate age-old philosophical precepts, then, by all means, ready yourself for a satisfying dive into Black Swan. 

9 out of 10

* Included below is a trailer for Black Swan.


  1. I love love love Aronofsky!!! Going to see this film next week...thanks for the glowing review!

  2. Your welcome. I'm a big Aronofsky fan myself. Requiem for a Dream was sensational, though its not the kind of film I would like to see more than once. And The Wrestler was outstanding as well. Frankly it was one of the best sports movies of the past decade despite the fact that it functions better as a drama.