Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Black Swan

I was really drawn to this film because of the previews and because I have been always a fan of Darren Aronofsky’s work. Natalie Portman is one of the great Amercican young actresses, the whole package. Also I had the precedent of a film like “Turning Point” a great film about the rivalry of two ballerinas played masterfully by Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, “Black Swan” is not that type of film. It is more like a surreal thriller set in the world of New York City ballet. “Black Swan” centers on a veteran ballerina who finds herself trapped in a competitive situation with a rival dancer, with the stakes and twists increasing as the dancers approach a big performance. But it's unclear whether the rival is a supernatural apparition or if the protagonist is simply having delusions.

This film takes a wild and melodramatic look at the blood sport that is New York City ballet. This story of ambition starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as dueling ballerinas is not just any kind of psycho melodrama, it's high-art psycho melodrama, hysteria over sanity that it's worth telling when its characters are hallucinating and when they're not.

Natalie Portman, in this dramatic thriller, plays the role of a beautiful increasingly troubled ballerina fighting for the lead role in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Swan Lake is a ballet about the very pure and beautiful Princess Odette who is transformed into a swan by a sorcerer. Only true love can transform her back. Her dream is nearly realized, but the Prince who would have transformed her back into a human is seduced by the Black Swan. In an act of despair, the White Swan commits suicide. This role is a difficult one to play for Portman’s character, however, because the swan queen must encompass both the black and the white swan. A one-dimensional ballerina will simply not do. And unfortunately, that is exactly what Portman’s character is initially. Her form is perfect, she never makes a mistake, but in that perfection something is lost. That “something” requires a style far more effortless or “self-forgetting” as Nietzsche would put it.

Throughout the movie, she struggles with a competitor who drives her, as the movie progresses, ever so much closer to the cliff of insanity. In the final act of her performance, however she becomes the black swan on stage, made very convincing through special effects (though it is her delusion). Remember Nietzsche? In the Dionysian, man “…is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art.” The film thrives in a Nietzchean discourse embracing the Dionysian, that great unknown and formidable chaos lurking just beneath our various “constructions”.

The movie is phenomenal. Portman gives a stunning performance. She is such an effective screen performer because she is not showy. She was so powerful in "Closer". Here, one wonders at first why she doesn't manage to convey the sheer love of dancing that would make her character endure the physical and mental torture of such hard work.  But by the end it's clear that Portman knew exactly what she was doing, with Aronofsky's help. The movie is made that much better if one reads the first few pages of The Birth of Tragedy. This film confirms the great work of Aronofsky as a director.

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