The Cynical Optimist : Black Swan

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I love film. The reason I love the cinema so much is because it evokes an emotional response from the viewer – it demands it. The emotion response is entirely unique to the viewer, an extremely personal reaction created from a life of experiences and feelings.

The movies make us laugh, they make us cry. They make us think – they question us, push us – they make us feel. Film is a kind of magic, a sleight of hand, that manipulates our ability to feel and intensifies it.

Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, ”Black Swan”, is a kind of dark magic that demands your complete surrender – the greater your willingness to lose yourself, the deeper and more meaningful the emotional response.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her obsessive mother (a former ballerina herself) who exerts a suffocating control over her.

The company’s opening production of the new season will be Swan Lake, and Nina is artistic director Thomas Leroy’s first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality.

Pushing the envelope (and our comfort zone) has become so definitively Darren Aronofsky’s signature that to settle for something generic or not uniquely of his voice and vision would be an artistic offense: not against critics or fans, but against himself.

”Black Swan” is a dangerous, uncompromising vision that serves as another notch in Aronofsky’s belt – surpassing ”The Fountain” and ”Requiem for a Dream” in the fact that it is a controlled act of creation – and while unrelenting, the film’s story is rather bare-bones and the imagery subtle in its uneasiness.

Christopher Nolan. David Fincher. Darren Aronofsky. No doubt these are three of the most talented, visionary filmmakers of our age – but consider for a moment their contributions to film in 2010.

Christopher Nolan’s Inception was smart, innovative, and unabashedly entertaining – the rare summer blockbuster that succeeds viscerally as well as intellectually. Fincher’s ”The Social Network” was impeccably written, beautifully directed, and a masterpiece of modern filmmaking.

Neither film, however, was as bracingly intense, passionate, or emotionally satisfying as Aronofsky’s ”Black Swan”, with a bravura performance from Natalie Portman that commands your attention and begs you to simply lose yourself in the moment.

In the end, Portman’s Nina strives for perfection – the ability to possess both controlled skill and effortless grace. It is evident that Darren Aronofsky has already mastered this task. Black Swan is a magnificent film, emotionally satisfying and yet devastating. It is a journey through the surreal and the strange, and while your emotional response may differ from mine – you will feel something, and that is the beauty of film in itself.