film review: Black Swan (2010)

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So… my first review of 2012 is a film that was probably one of the first films I saw in 2011… As it so happens it’s also turned out to be one of my top films of 2011. How’s about that. I’ll be doing a post on my 2011 top films soon enough but for the moment here’s the reviewBlack Swan.

Black Swan Natalie Portman Mila KunisI never thought I’d like this film. For some reason I’ve just never liked Darren Aronofsky’s films. I’ve seen all of his features, probably the only director I can say that about, and they’ve always left me cold and indifferent. I actually went on-air on Phantom 105.2 once to specifically argue that Requiem for a Dream was an over-rated and incredibly simplistic piece of crap.

The truth is, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to like this (for some reason unknown to me) much celebrated director. Yet still, I went along to Black Swan with a modicum of hope. Mainly because I liked the arty posters… What can I say? I like to try and see something positive in everything.

And I’m glad I did. I loved Black Swan. The story of a person struggling in the pursuit of perfection is one that I, and I think a lot of people can relate to. Darren Aronofsky finally managed to create something that he always lacked, a character which people could empathise with. I, for one, have always seen his films as more an eye on a world that I wasn’t a part of, rather a look at a world I lived in, he never gave me a reason to become in any way involved in his characters or stories.

But perhaps that was just me. I know that a lot of people were moved by The Wrestler and Requiem for a Dream… but I’ve always felt that his characters were too simply drawn. He has, in some films more obviously than others, always dealt with the idea of addiction but in my opinion he’s never brought us the reality. Addiction isn’t simple, people aren’t simple.

Not that Aronofsky’s films are simple, they’ve always been ambitious in terms of the emotions he’s tried to convey but at the centre he’s always had, what I would consider as, characters with a single purpose. To bring the narrative to its inevitable tragic conclusion. You don’t know why exactly they’re on this road or why they don’t choose to take a turn off, all you get to see is that they just keep driving.

In Black Swan, Natalie Portman is a woman who ached for success and Aronofsky created a world and a struggle that was… realistic. Every day people feel the pressure live up to what’s expected of them, be it by their parents or co-workers, partners, friends or just society. Who among us has never thought, maybe I’m just not good enough? This is the question that Portman’s Nina fights with and Aronofsky makes her subtle and complex enough to guide us through her torturous path of trying to answer it.

However, to be less abstract. Yes, there is a strong central theme but it’s nothing if you don’t have solid building blocks around it. Portman excels as Nina, her breakdown into paranoia is etched on her body as is her desire and yearning to push past it and reach that pinnacle of perfection. Her Oscar was richly deserved. The supporting characters in Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel were no less impressive, but it was Portman that was the star.

Broader again, I loved how Aronofsky wove the horror elements into the film. Undoubtedly this is part of the reason I enjoyed Black Swan as much as I did, and far more than any of his previous endeavours. That said, I don’t think he relied on or overused too many of the tropes of horror. There were one or two that were a little blindingly obvious but the way he used them was such that it complemented the drama he was creating. Black Swan is not a horror film, despite what some people have said. It’s a psychological thriller through and through.

As I mentioned earlier, Aronofsky’s films have always been complex in the emotions they’ve grasped at and Black Swan is no exception. The crescendo of the film, in a way, terrified me, it certainly unsettled me and the film stayed with me long after I left the theatre. It was refreshing in that sense. There are so many films out there that aren’t ambitious, that are just throw away entertainment. Black Swan, while perhaps not an important film… is a lasting one. This deserves to be a classic simply because it’s a genre film that’s so well realised.

I kind of see Black Swan as a perfect storm in terms of film-making. Aronofsky’s cold stylings suited the story on offer here. I’ve always felt a detachment off the characters in his films. It’s the biggest problem I had with The Wrestler, I never felt or believed the relationships between Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. Darren Aronofsky directing a story in which our main character is slowly becoming more detached, from those around her and from reality, makes perfect sense.

Because of that though, I wonder if I’ll ever enjoy another Aronofsky film. Perhaps he’s made the film he was always meant to make and that’ll be it now. I’ll end up sitting through another 10 features from the guy, hoping that he’ll reach that height again and I’ll always be disappointed… Hmm…

That’s probably enough for now. What did you think yourself? What was your top film of 2011?


1 Comment

  1. comment-avatar
    MunirJanuary 5, 2012 - 7:55 am

    Well written! You might actually convince me to watch it 🙂

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