“Black Swan” is a movie that requires a thesaurus to describe. Simple words like great or excellent just don’t seem to cut it. I feel like I am not doing the movie justice unless I communicate its brilliance with fancy-sounding words of at least four syllables. It just gives off that vibe.
Director Darren Aronofsky captures on film a psychotic yet beautifully designed thriller that looks, thinks, and feels like an intricate work of art hanging in a gallery. Opening with a scene that immediately sucks us in, we watch as The Swan Queen (of the famous ballet “Swan Lake”) evocatively dances through her haunting transformation into the White Swan. This sequence’s dreamlike surrealism is mesmerizing, a worthy inception to the film’s continuous flow of rhythmically hypnotic insanity. “Black Swan” is a flawlessly restless film; every moment is a moment spent on edge.
Natalie Portman, as main character Nina Sayers, is spellbinding. A veteran ballerina, she lands the lead in “Swan Lake” as The Swan Queen. Her director, a self-righteously charming man played by Vincent Cassel, praises her control of the White Swan yet insults Nina’s ability to embody the second requirement of dancing The Swan Queen, the complicated Black Swan. He tells her to lose herself. “Black Swan” is a movie about Nina following orders a tad too devotedly.
The collaborative efforts of this film create a thriller bordering on virtuoso status, and with subsequent viewings “Black Swan” may easily reach this plateau, if not surpass it. I doubt I will ever fully understand it. Even more so, I doubt that I am even supposed to.
“Black Swan” is one of those genius efforts that does not need an explanation. Everything can be questioned. Nothing can fully be explained. Theories can be offered here and there, but they will always remain theories. Even if Aronofsky or the film’s screenwriters were to offer their own takes, which seemingly would be the correct ones, “Black Swan” would still reign in its power of individual perception; a unique experience for every single viewer.
Is everything in Nina’s head? How truly sinister is Lily (Mila Kunis), the rival dancer who Nina suspects of sabotaging her role in the ballet? Which conversations, which situations, are actually happening in the real world? Is anything happening in the real world?
“Black Swan” excels at accomplished ambiguity, and this makes it masterful. I had no idea what to expect with every passing minute; the movie sporadically swaps from stunningly subtle calm to staggeringly schizophrenic delirium. Aronofsky’s balance and timing of such is disturbing, forceful, and in terms of thrillers, his work here is unmatched. It rivals David Fincher’s “The Social Network” as the best directed film of the year.
Stylishly trippy, perversely bizarre, and sensationally crafted, “Black Swan” is one of the best, and most unique, movies of 2010. It is the scariest piece of filmmaking I have witnessed in what has undoubtedly been years. It was an uneasy feeling to encounter again, unfamiliar after being absent for so long, but “Black Swan” grasped it from within me and brought it to life. Normally, I’d be reluctant to feel this way again, but I can’t imagine turning “Black Swan” into a memory. It’s a nightmare worth revisiting.
Greg Vellante is a film critic for The Eagle Tribune.