Black Swan (2010)

(In theaters, December 2010) The difference between genre horror and “psychological drama” is often that in the latter case, much of the monsters can be explained away by the narrator being completely crazy.  That’s certainly one plausible interpretation for Black Swan: In this high-class horror film, a ballerina driven mad by the pressures of performing the lead role in Swan Lake gradually lets themes of repression, doppelgangers and mirror images get the better of her.  It doesn’t end well… or does it?  This murky conclusion is only one of the ways in which Black Swan acts as a companion to director Darren Aronofsky’s previous The Wrestler: Same grainy flat cinematography, same fascination for the psychological impact of intense passion, same look at a performance-driven sub-culture.  Visually, Black Swan looks ugly (with exceptions whenever the performers are on-stage), but it constantly reinforces the visual themes of opposite doubles: the grainy super-16mm cinematography has enough depth to sustain a film-school paper.  It also strips all glossy moviemaking glamour away from Nathalie Portman’s mesmerizing lead performance, instantly credible as a ballerina with enough issues to sustain a film’s worth of delusions.  Mila Kunis also acquits herself honourably in her third significant role of 2010, whereas Vincent Cassel is as deliciously slimy as ever.  But the star here remains Portman, and if Black Swan works, it’s largely because of her dedication to her craft.  As for the ending, well, it grows with time: If, initially, it seems as if the film stops about thirty seconds and a coroner’s report too soon, it also fully commits itself to its unreliable narrator, and eventually lends itself to about three interpretations spanning the entire length of the genre horror / psychological drama spectrum.  Aronofsky may never direct a comedy, but his dramas are growing ever-more finely tuned to their subject, and viewers may as well endure the ride.

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