I have just got back home after watching Black Swan at the cinema. I think I want to call it a psychological thriller, but it is not a generic film. It is an intense journey that leads you on a dark, emotional introspection of the fragility of human nature, and self-destructive perfectionism. I was left in such a state that I could not speak as the credits rolled, and could barely manage a ‘wow’.
Black Swan is shocking, mesmerising, brutal and beautiful. It may be a film about ballet, but it is dark and tough, and the dance scenes are hypnotically beautiful — flounce and tutus this is not. Darren Aronofsky has directed his best film yet; the promise of The Fountain and The Wrestler have come to perfection here. He has put together an accomplished cast. Vincent Cassel excels as the intensely demanding director of the NYC Ballet who takes a more than personal interest in the development of his principal dancers, and Barbara Hershey is a brilliant choice for the narcissistic pushy mother living vicariously through her daughter, rising ballet star, whose loving support is overshadowed by an obsessive, controlling and ever-present menace. Both Cassel and Hershey anchor the film with their performances, portraying the two characters who dominate the young dancer’s life — ballet company and home.
Natalie Portman, as Nina, the dancer around whom the story is spun, finally shows that, given a director and script of quality, she can really act. Portman portrays the perfectionist ballerina sympathetically as both a vulnerable innocent and psychologically disturbed (both anorexia nervosa and self-harm are strongly suggested). The camera puts us inside Nina’s head, so that we are left wondering if things we see are really happening or just occur in her inner life — passing daydreams and half-glanced sightings of things keep us unsure of ourselves, our own eyes — is she paranoid or are they really out to get her? The film uses CGI to enhance these, rather than its usual use as a distraction.