Digging deep into the psyche of a performance artist is always an interesting concept to portray on screen, especially when it can reveal the deepest and most absolutely dark secrets of what goes behind a certain art form. Director Darren Aronofsky decided that he would explore this side of entertainment with two films connected only emotionally and thematically with his super underrated The Wrestler and his most important film to date, Black Swan. Diving into the world of professional ballet, Aronofsky crafts a phenomenal look at what drives a committed dancer and the psychological damage this dancer takes in trying to gain the respect she strives for. Black Swan follows Natalie Portman in her best performance to date as dancer Nina Sayers, who obtains the role of The Swan Queen in her ballet production studio’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. As Nina is being pushed too hard by her controlling and abusive mother (Barbara Hershey) and intimidated by competition brought to her by fellow dancer Lily (Mila Kunis), her psyche starts to break down and signs of insanity start to seep through as she pushes further down the rabbit hole of performance art as reality slowly fades and the performance takes over.
Portman is brilliant as an artist broken by her defeated love of dancing, trying so hard to put everything back together in her life as she is slowly taken down by her obsession with being the lead role. Couple this horrifying performance with the Lynch-like filmmaking by Aronofsky, and you have the other end of the spectrum he created with The Wrestler. If The Wrestler looked at the depressing and tragic lifestyles of an entertainer, Black Swan explores the horrific and undeniably insane dedication to something. Not only is this film overwhelmingly depressing, but it is also incredibly suffocating, with characters who would stab each other in the back at any time. Mila Kunis’ character Lily is one to never trust, and Nina’s mother is terrifyingly realistic as an overwhelming mother just trying to see her daughter become famous. But, the film asks, is the reason she wants success for Nina or for herself? No one is innocent, and never will you feel any presence of safety, but that’s what makes Black Swan so brilliant. Aronofsky rips away what could have been a mundane story of dedication, and turns that dedication into insanity. Kudos to Aronofsky for crafting such a depressing look into the art world, because I doubt anyone could do it like him.
dir. Darron Aronofsky
Playing at the Coolidge Corner Theater this Saturday, July 22nd, at 11:59 in 35mm!