Monday, December 6, 2010

Movie with Abe: Black Swan

Black Swan
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Released December 5, 2010

Director Darren Aronofsky’s feature films are few and extraordinarily distinctive. He began with “Pi,” a black-and-white exploration of math, moved on to the effects of hallucinogenic drugs in “Requiem for a Dream,” tackled millennium-spanning love in “The Fountain,” and then a comparatively normal portrait of an aging wrestler searching for a comeback in “The Wrestler.” Aronofosky’s short resume greatly informs the types of films he makes, and the claustrophobic, frightening trailer for his latest film is equally helpful in assessing the type of film he’s making: the story of one person’s obsession and how it leads her deeper and deeper into madness.

“Black Swan” can be described many ways, and to try to box it into just one category doesn’t do it justice. Out of Aronofsky’s library, only “The Wrestler” can be truly classified as anything (a drama). “Black Swan” might be termed a psychological thriller, with an emphasis on its function as a character piece with extensive choreography mixed in. It’s the kind of film where ordinary events occur but are punctuated by terrifying bursts of excitement and horror, aided extensively by music from Aronofsky’s default composer, Clint Mansell, as well as the already foreboding and hypnotic score to ballet “Swan Lake.”

Much of the meaning of “Black Swan” comes from the similarity of its main character Nina’s transformation over the course of the film to the metamorphosis that Nina must convey as the company’s featured dancer in “Swan Lake.” It’s a deeper meaning that is not entirely evident until the moment the film’s credits roll, making everything that builds up to it considerably more confounding. The film is a series of events of questionable reality due to the deteriorating condition of overworked and hopelessly dedicated dancer Nina, whose stress only builds as her dream role approaches.

What the film accomplishes in symbolism and inspires in contemplation it doesn’t quite realize on screen. The film’s story is indisputably intriguing, yet something about its presentation is incomplete. The ballet sequences are strong but hardly astounding, and the visual representations of the rest of the film’s scenes pale in comparison to the astonishing backgrounds of “The Fountain” or the gritty reality of “The Wrestler” (cinematographer Matthew Libatique, like Mansell, has collaborated with Aronofsky on all of his films). Natalie Portman delivers a muted and quiet performance that purposefully lacks her token charm and energy, mirroring the film’s own purposeful unwillingness to explain to the audience what’s real and what’s not. Ultimately, there’s something lacking in cinematic structure and representation in “Black Swan,” and while some will find a great deal in the film, others will be left less satisfied and yearning for further clarity and fulfillment.


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