Every day each of us tries to be the perfect daughter, the perfect friend, the perfect employee. Every day we fail. What does that perpetual failure do over time? After years and years of failing every day, when does our frustration become too much? How much failure can we take?
Such is the dilemma presented to the audience in Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, Black Swan: the destructive nature of the uncompromising pursuit of perfection.
Aronofsky has crafted a tight, dark, psychological thriller set in the most innocuous of arenas: ballet. This setting, traditionally reserved for skillful performances and beautiful faces, plays a stark contrast to the twisted and perverse psychoses fluttering through the protagonist’s mind. The director begins the film with a sense of melancholy, but gradually shifts the tone into one of dread and, ultimately, horror.
The film is a study of the mental anguish of a rising ballet star, played by Natalie Portman. Tight shots and extensive use of handheld camera narrows the audience’s attention squarely on Portman. Instead of focusing on the world around her, the audience is focused on what’s going on in her head.
It’s not a pretty sight. This is a movie about a woman going insane. With every passing minute we see a psyche further deteriorating and Portman’s performance allows us to see every gut-wrenching detail. She deftly fluctuates from meek and subdued to paranoid and erratic, culminating in a psychotic crescendo. She really could not be better here.
Black Swan is one of those movies that sticks with you after you leave the theater. Its themes echo through your head on the drive home. You want to talk about it with the first person you see and tell them how you interpreted it and what it meant to you. Not since 2008’s There Will Be Blood have I found myself so hopelessly lost in thought about a film character. It’s Freud blended with Hitchcock.
As the title implies, this is a film that’s both inky dark and breathtakingly beautiful. It deals with mature subject matter and is certainly not for the squeamish. However, those interested in an expertly shot and hauntingly performed psychological drama will certainly find shelter under Black Swan’s wing.