Darren Aronofsky has had a rocky adventure as a director in the past fifteen years. Two critically acclaimed, low-budget independent films (Pi, Requiem of a Dream) followed by a failed masterpiece (The Fountain), and then a return to form (The Wrestler) has given the director a whole new chance to redefine his stance as an important director. Black Swan is the most Aronofsky film he has made, his style and talent is very much present, so much that this masterpiece is worthy of the best film of the year at this point.
Nina (Natalie Portman) secures her place as the Queen Swan in a modern Swan Lake production. Her doting mother (Barbara Hershey) who vicariously lives her failed life as a ballerina through Nina. Nina’s state of mind parallels that of the storyline between Swan Lake as she begins to resist against the repressive conflicts that appear all around her.
Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), the director of the production, attempts to seduce her off stage, yet struggles to bring out the need for Nina’s swan to “let go” and seduce the audience. All the while, Nina struggles to survive depression set upon the previous Swan Queen, Beth (Winona Ryder) and to keep the future Lily (Mila Kunis) at bay.
Aronofsky, while very much using his own auteur style, incorporates many other directorial and literary styles, including that of the Swan Lake. The traits of David Cronenberg’s body horror and Roman Polanski’s psychological thrillers (think Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby) are easily present, as well as Kafka’s Metamorphosis (even a little Billy Wilder thrown in). These styles work well with Nina’s psychological state.
The unique styles of Aronofsky such as following the protagonist from the back and handheld camerawork are all here, and welcome. Aronofsky may have had the most freedom to fully produce his vision, and in doing so has reached, at this moment in his career, his most personal style, a masterpiece for himself. This is the Aronofsky film that he has been wanting to create.
The performances are stellar, with Portman expressing the sadness within her during the whole film. Her transformation and psychological tragedy (similar to nearly all Aronofsky films) is incredible, and believable. Mila Kunis’ character, while rather typecast, accentuates the frieniememy role necessary to motivate Nina’s character to reach total transformation. Winona Ryder, while not in the film for long periods, provides a wonderful catalyst to which Nina’s character has a sympathy towards her fall.
Once again, Clint Mansell provides a haunting score that not only symbolizes the state of mind in this film, but parallels the uncanny Swan Lake composition. The editing is fluid and like all cinematic elements, assists the film in creating this exceptional film.
There is no doubt that Darren Aronofsky has found a niche in tragic psychological thrillers and horror films, and Black Swan, which parallels the ballet production and Nina’s fall, also may parallel his career, in that, he has finally “let go”. This director now has the momentum to truly climb the ranks as a top Generation X director. Black Swan is an incredible film that offers real replay value and will certainly remain a staple in the Aronofsky filmography and the cornerstone psychological thriller/horror film.