Let me tell you right out of the gate that I LOVE Darren Aronofsky films. I loved “Requiem For A Dream,” thought “The Wrestler” was top notch, really enjoyed “The Fountain,” and totally dug “Pi.” So I figure “Black Swan,” with all it’s critical accolades was a sure thing, right? Well…I was wrong.
Maybe I’m not understanding the basis of the storyline but here’s what I get…there are two storylines here. One is the budding sexual awakening of ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman). That I kind of understand. The other is her drifting into insanity (I think) and her metamorphosis into a complete lunatic. How Aronofsky combines these two are interesting in a way, but I was totally not taken in by the script at all.
First off, there are a lot of parlor tricks in this movie that kind of put me off. Shadowy figures roaming around, lots of characters changing into other characters, laughing voices in the background. What is that? Is it all in Nina’s mind? Are we supposed to be hearing and seeing what SHE’S seeing? At what point are we (the audience) no longer watching from a distance and are now a part of her psyche? I wasn’t sure WHERE I was throughout most of the film. It was very confusing and I could never follow exactly the perspective I was supposed to be watching from.
Secondly, let’s talk Portman’s performance because she is getting RAVE reviews for this film and I have to be honest…I don’t quite get it. Don’t get me wrong…she is, undoubtedly, a solid actress and this is her crowning achievement as far as the films that I have seen her in. But I don’t think she has the performance of the year wrapped up at all. As a matter of fact, I haven’t even seen it, but I am thinking Nicole Kidman has got to bring more to the table in her role in “Rabbit Hole” than what Portman has here. Or I hear Jennifer Lawrence is AWESOME in “Winter’s Bone.”And I would even put Annette Bening ahead of her for “The Kids Are All Right.” Portman is way too subdued for most of this film for me to consider it a masterpiece. She basically plays a very lonely and almost docile character who is too afraid to speak up for herself. It’s more of a sad performance than anything and I couldn’t get into it. Most people who are as driven as her character obviously was are extreme personalities. I can’t remember when I’ve ever met anyone who is driven so hard and speaks with such a soft voice. But maybe I just don’t know enough about the dance community to understand that kind of personality? Interesting thought.
Now…about everything else. I loved the supporting actors except for Winona Rider. I thought she was TERRIBLY miscast and her role was borderline pathetic. Not that she’s not a good actress, I love most of her works, but her role as a washed up former dancing star was just not for her. Barbara Hershey is ALWAYS good in just about everything and she was perfect as the neurotic (maybe?) mother who has a penchant for painting abstract pictures of her daughter. Mila Kunis was a good choice for the competitive Lily, pushing Nina’s competitive and sexual urges to the brink, and Vincent Cassel is dead on as the performance director, Thomas, who pushes the limits just enough to get the best out of his ballerinas. Why he isn’t nominated in a Best Supporting Actor role is beyond me.
The rest of the film is pretty good. The set pieces are okay and the camera work is good enough. I like the scenes where Nina is dancing and the camera follows dizzily behind her. It creates a certain confusion that adds to the character, even if I never really understand her mental state.
Overall, this is not a terrible film by any means, it’s just not what I expected. It was disjointed for me because I couldn’t identify with the character’s point of view and I was never sure what I was seeing. Is Nina going insane? Is she breaking under the pressure of her upcoming performance? has she been driven to the brink by her mother? Her lack of sexuality? By her need to be “the best?” What is it? What is going on in this girl’s mind? Unfortunately we never really find out and that might be the worst part of it. The ending is too abrupt and I don’t think I’ll ever understand what the point of it was. If you like “artsy” films, you might enjoy this film more than I did. But I don’t think I’m wrong in saying I think Portman will find an even juicer role at some point and it will blow this performance out of the water. For me…this is NOT Oscar material.
Overall Rating: B-
P.S. If you happen to be watching this film at work, be aware…there is a CRAZY intense sex scene about an hour in. Your boss may not like you watching that kind of thing in the office. Just sayin’…