Admittedly, I’m not a Darren Aronofsky fan-boy. PI did not blow me away, yet I did find Requiem for a Dream substantive and enjoyable. His last films, The Fountain and The Wrestler, turned me off, due to his story-telling, plot structure (what little there is), and character development. Black Swan stands better than his last two films but doesn’t hit the praise reviewers seem to be awarding it.
What worked: acting
Natalie Portman’s portrayal of the obsessed ballerina descending into madness, is in a word, brilliant. She was convincing and a character with whom sympathy can be felt. Cassel, Hershey, Ryder, & Kunis were also able to build a world of simple and flawed characters.
What also worked: cinematography
Freaky, dark, and compelling the shots lead to a feeling of deep immersion. The plight of Portman’s character, Nina Sayers, becomes vivid, real, and sharp. We come to understand her background and the ballet life. We are taken on a traumatic path filled with sexual encounters, blood, sweat, physical pain, and mental anguish/torture. If anything, Aronofsky is a tremendous window builder, with clarity we can see/comprehend a world and its structure/design and fully grasp characters and their motivation.
What didn’t work: character development
Unfortunately, all the characters in the film lack depth. They can be defined as such: profession & stereotype:
- Nina Sayers- ballerina & perfection obsessed to insanity.
- Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder)- forced into retirement ex-ballerina who was at the height of a life-long career & bitter.
- Lily (Mila Kunis)- West Coast ballerina & wild like the west
- Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel)- Ballet Manager/Producer & dirty-dude who sleeps with his ballet stars
- Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey)- Mom/ex-ballerina & over-protective/ over-bearing
Black Swan holds a small cast of characters that fall into a two-dimensional range. Erica Sayers may have been the most dynamic, but we aren’t given a long enough glimpse into her life (as she isn’t the main character), and as such we are left with incomplete strands .
What else didn’t work: plot/story
Given the elementary nature of the characters, all things lead to the uncomplicated. We know Nina is going nuts and Aronofksy makes it obvious. He cuts from a raw scene of imagined insanity to reality, letting us know that it isn’t real. Nina is crazy, will get crazier, and eventually fall into madness/suicide – as does the black swan. There’s nothing to work out. About 30 minutes into the movie it’s very obvious where things are headed. The movie managed to feel gimmicky. Sexual scenes, torn skin and dripping blood, supposed murder, etc. did nothing to heighten an overall development of characters, relationships, struggles, or even reality. We know she is mental, and it’s obvious that her situation makes her more mad than ever, but other than that what is left? Shock? Maybe for some.
Shakespeare has penned some of the most brilliant unhinged characters and stories we could wish to enjoy; these writers are no Shakespeare.
Thanks to Portman’s erratic and compelling lunacy and Aronofsky’s camera-work: Black Swan earns a solid 3 out of 5 stars.