Upon seeing The Silence of the Lambs for the first time, I realized that it would be a long time before a better psychological horror film was made. Surprisingly that day has come (19 years later) with Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.
Black Swan follows ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) as she trains to win the lead role in Swan Lake. Describing anything more about the plot would delve into spoiler territory (and trust me, the less you know about this one, the better), but what I can say is that the film is one of the grittiest, sexiest, and jump-out-of-your-seat-iest movies ever.
Having seen only The Wrestler out of all of Darren Aronofsky’s films I have thought that he was a very good (if not great) director (I would actually recommend watching The Wrestler before seeing Black Swan as I got a totally different experience from this film having watched The Wrestler then someone who has not.). However, with Black Swan, Aronofsky proves (as many of his fans probably already know) he is one of the best directors in the business. Black Swan is a true directorial masterpiece. The script (written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John L. McLaughlin) is good but it’s Aronofsky’s vision that makes this film a true masterpiece. You cannot imagine anyone else making this film. Aronofsky’s style oozes from every shot of this movie.
As great as Aronofsky is, the true MVP of this film is Natalie Portman. Portman gives a performance that will be listed on many all-time great performances lists for years to come. As mentioned above, knowledge of The Wrestler allows you to figure out where the film is going to end. Aronofsky places a huge bet on the viewer becoming completely attached to Nina Sayers and her fate. Luckily, Aronofsky makes the right one as Portman completely sells the character and makes the audience fall in love with her. So when the film reveals where it is heading it is just that much harder to take Nina’s eventual fate. It is like watching a train wreck in progress in the best possible way. You are really hoping that it will be alright when in the back of your mind you know it is not. To make her performance even more astonishing, you can tell that Portman lost weight to fit the character and even performs a lot of the ballet moves. Her acting in the last 20 minutes will leave you stunned. It will be on acting highlight reels for years. Even though this is Portman’s movie, the rest of the cast is very good. Vincent Cassel is great as the almost-villainous ballet teacher. Barbara Hershey is very creepy as the overprotective mother and Winona Ryder is very convincing in her role as a disgraced ballerina. Mila Kunis is good (albeit a little overrated by most critics) as a fellow ballerina.
If the phenomenal directing and acting weren’t enough, many of the behind the camera aspects of the film are great too. The handheld cinematography works very effectively as it brings you right into the action. The dark and haunting score perfectly fits in with the exploits of the characters on screen. The editing is quick and almost-disorientating (just as it should be for a film like this). The costume and art direction are perfect for a movie about the world of ballet.
Black Swan may be described as “The Wrestler on acid”, but it is truly better than that great film in every aspect. Black Swan is a real masterpiece.