There is an admirable intensity that radiates with Black Swan. So many people are at the top of their game in this movie. Natalie Portman and cinematographer Matthew Libatique both deserve Oscars for their masterful work. Different elements can be studied and appreciated for what nuances they’ve accomplished but there too many things stopping this from being its potential masterpiece.
Ballet is a medium that requires a lot of subtly to accomplish its goals. The way the dancer moves across the stage means everything to the character and the performance. Black Swan portrays the ballet scenes with amazement with the way the actors are handling the material, the camera is in the middle of the action and the way the music is just incredible. However what’s missing is the subtly. What really hurts this film is the lack of subtext.
Portman plays Nina Sayers who desperately wants to play the lead of Swan Lake. Can she be able to transform herself into the Black Swan is the main conflict of the film. From the beautiful opening dance sequence, it is obvious this film will run parallel to the ballet itself. If that wasn’t clear, it will be stated in the dialog over and over again. The black and white symbolism is radiating off the screen almost to the point of a drinking game.
This is only a real issue in the first act of the film and parts of the second. A second viewing will be able to constitute whether or not it effectively worked as a set-up for the characters. Right now it feels clunky but it can be excused for how well the finale was executed. The film is electric and becomes a powerful piece of art.
That accomplishment can be attributed to Darren Arnonfsky’s enthusiasm for the project and Natalie Portman’s tour-de-force performance. Stories of duality allow the actor to show their range. Look how innocent and corrupted they can be! Portman clearly has the range, but she nails the transformation with physical excellence. Her character is obsessed with the ballet in such a troubled fashion. So it only makes sense that the way she composes herself will reflect that institution. As she ebbs and flows with her confidence, there’s something impressive going on which shows that Portman is incredibly controlled as an actress but also plays with the organic principals of the character.
There are enough bizarre elements of the film to make this an “arthouse” flick. It becomes weird in a Cronenberg fashion, but because of its insistence to make everything clear it’s never entirely out of the blue. There is still enough there to form a intelligent dissection of it but it could have left more to the audience.