Natalie Portman Goes Batshit in a Tutu in Black Swan
Ballerina, going to pieces
A near-irresistible exercise in bravura absurdity, Darren Aronofskys Black Swan deserves to become a minor classic of heterosexual campat the very least, its the most risible and riotous backstage movie since Showgirls.
Tchaikovskys Swan Lake has had a spooky quality at least since Tod Browning appropriated a few bars of it to introduce his 1930 Dracula; Aronofsky takes that creep factor all the way to the moon. Not body but ballet horror, Black Swan is a Red Shoes/Repulsion/Carrie mash-up, slathered with Dario Argento cheese. At the same time, the movie is recognizably Aronofskyian in its strenuous, sensationalizing goofiness. This epic actualization myth is a distaff version of The Wrestler, equally saturated in gore-soaked, self-mutilating histrionics.
Like The Wrestler, Black Swan is an acting vehicleit exists to document a highly physical, totally immersive performance. Rather than fueling a geezerly comeback, however, the movie is propelled by Natalie Portmans game determination and near-excruciating anxiety as Nina, a dogged, delusional, mildly masochistic, possibly virginal, and severely repressed little ballerina plucked from the ensemble to dance the Swan Queen and, as is customary, her evil twin in a new vision of Swan Lake concocted by the sleaziest ballet master to ever slime Lincoln Center (Vincent Cassel).
Frequently heard to whimper that she just wants to be perfect, Nina is one tense chick. But, really, who could blame her? Projecting her shadow all over the Upper West Side, the tremulous child is stalked and brutalized onstage and off-, as well as in her dreams; shes taunted by trolls and hobgoblins as she scurries home to the apartment-cum-haunted-house, a veritable nursery for Rosemarys baby, that she shares, under the name Sweet Girl, with her scary, infantilizing mother (Barbara Hershey, hair pulled tight to pop her eyes and so witchy she should be standing in a pool of Morticia Addams goo).
Navigating the clattering subway of terror and twisted catacombs of Lincoln Center (surely built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground and haunted by the souls of evicted tenants), Nina fights bravely for her role. She bites the ballet masters arrogantly curled lip and draws blood to get it; he then tells Nina to practice touching herself at home. The sweaty Sturm und Drang surrounding Sweet Girls first orgasm is a production number in itself. (Portman long ago displayed her dark side in Closer, although, admittedly, she didnt have to pole dance en pointe.)
Aronofsky has a near-documentary fascination with the minutiae of physical training, but in the end, Black Swan is all about penetration, blood, and psychosis. Mind games multiply en route to Ninas inevitable swan song. The prima ballerina that the youngster replaced (Winona Ryder) has cast a malign spell on her, and Nina is beset by a sexually confident rival (Mila Kunis) from faraway San Francisco, who tries to steal her partor maybe her heartduring the course of an after-work ecstasy-crazed bacchanal. Even worse, Nina is afflicted by mysterious, running-sore stigmata, some of it self-induced. Tormented by mirrored doppelgängers and her mothers expressionist canvases, her brain is fried well before she goes totally goth-girl for the climactic walpurgisnacht.
Black Swan is a hooteven more so if one identifies Aronofsky with the haughty maestro who swans through the movie like a bobblehead cadaverand compared to the ponderous pulp mysticism of The Fountain, Aronofskys suffocatingly self-important attempt to out-kibitz the Kabbalah, its surprisingly fluid. The wall-to-wall Tchaikovsky (and Tchaikovsky) certainly helps, but credit the filmmaker: Despite (or perhaps thanks to) his shock cuts, zap hallucinations, off-kilter framing, moody chiaroscuro, and repetitive creepiness, Black Swan is something like a 100-minute swoon. The camera lurches, leaps, and pirouettes; in some scenes, it feels as if its being tossed around the stage along with Portman. Kitsch this bombastic becomes something primal.
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