Absolute masterpiece, and I’m jealous of Darren Aronofsky. This is not a “political film,” but I’ll talk about it anyway. Natalie Portman is outstanding, and since there are spoilers you should run right out and catch this film before anyone says any more about it.
I had almost given up on the movies, the corporate, neo-fascist, mindless military-industrial-ENTERTAINMENT-complex that runs more of the world than should be legally and morally permitted. But then something truly artistic sneaks in, and I have to reassess my disgust with it all. When I say “given up” I mean right there during the trailers and Coca Cola advertisements before the movie. I have no tolerance for the scumbag marketing mother fuckers of the world. They are truly despicable, immoral, sub-humanoid creatures, deserving of their own circle in hell. That’s why I don’t have TV. I opted out of commercials a decade ago, and have not regretted a minute of it.
But then Black Swan began, and all that stuff washed away in a sea of irrelevance. I didn’t know what to expect, and when Natalie / Nina turned out to be so vulnerable, so innocent, so blinkered and so naive and good hearted, I just melted. How could anyone not fall in love with Nina?
The camera follows closely as Nina, who clearly suffers from something undefined, struggles to be the best dancer in her company. She hopes to dance as the Swan Queen, who is both White Swan and Black Swan combined.
It is this duality the yin/yang, good and evil, virgin and slut, innocent and aggressor all wrapped into one that is the theme of the film. Nina’s character begins clearly lacking that other darker side. She’s a special case where her darker nature has been thwarted, kept under control, squelched by an overbearing mother. And there are good reasons for the close scrutiny by her mom, because Nina is prone to hurt herself physically.
Already we have a one in a million character driven to excel beyond the rest of us, and beyond even her own capabilities. In this case, it is her capability to play the Black Swan — the sexual temptress. Here Nina runs up against a wall. If she cannot overcome her repression, she will not be able to become the Black Swan and she will fail. As opening night is fast approaching, we have our ticking clock in the background. As Nina delves into deeper and deeper psychotic episodes, losing track of reality completely, we have an escalation of tension to rival any war film.
One reviewer took issue with the meaning of the film. He thought that an artist could excel as a white swan and be perfectly happy with the pursuit of technical excellence. Others were more prone to be like the black swan and to give up control and surrender to the chaotic flow of creativity. I sort of wish I hadn’t read that spoiler prior to seeing the film, but as it played I didn’t really think of it in those terms at all. I see it more as metaphor for all of us, and not just for artists, or confined to the realm of arttistic pursuits or styles. I see Nina as the perfect metaphor to bring the Swan Queen, and her struggle to the forefront.
Why is she perfect?
Nina arcs to achieve all the qualities of the Swan Queen in one night, for one moment, and then she dies as does the Swan Queen, as does the performance, as does every performance in every art. She’s a flash of perfection that cannot persist. She’s the moment of transcendence, and that’s her purpose. Nothing more.
Aronofsky has this love of characters who die doing what they were meant to do. Who go all the way. The Wrestler is the perfect example here. Randy The Ram couldn’t be anyone else, even though he thought he was supposed to try. He could only wrestle, and he could only die a glorious death — with meaning for him — in the ring.
Black Swan reaffirmed my faith in cinema today. We still have cinema, no matter how decrepit and vile most movies turn out, from the corporate sausage factory, we still have some hope. Sixteen millimeter film can capture magic. Emotion requires no explosions or robots.
There are actually a number of masterfully done visual effects in the film (240 shots). Most are so flawless they can’t be noticed and appear real. Here is a link to the special effects reel for the film, created by Look Effects.