MOVIE REVIEW: Black Swan

Our SPOT.ph movie reviewer calls this thriller "the strangest, most daring, and most original Best Picture Oscar contender."

Natalie Portman earned an Oscar nod for her role as Nina in Black Swan


Bizarre and bold, weird and wicked, Black Swan is the strangest, most daring and  most original Best Picture Oscar contender I've seen in many years. A psychological thriller about a ballerina's descent into madness that's brought on by a new version of the ballet Swan Lake, the hallucinogenic drama also comes with visual effects-assisted horror movie scares, frank lesbianism, female masturbation and self-mutilation. It's certainly not a movie for everyone, especially for those below 13 years of age who can't watch the film because of its "R-13" MTRCB rating.

 

Watch the Black Swan trailer

At the core of the very adult, very defiant film is Natalie Portman's brave and flawless performance, for which she's already won Best Actress trophies from the Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA and the Hollywood Foreign Press. Portman is in fact favored to win the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role when the Oscars are given out this Sunday evening, February 27 in Los Angeles (the morning of February 28, Philippine time). Whatever the Oscars' outcome, what's unquestionable is that the Star Wars prequel trilogy actress delivers the searing performance of a lifetime in Black Swan.  

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a dedicated ballerina in New York who has dreamed for years of landing a lead role in a ballet. One day, the chance to make her dream come true presents itself when she's cast by artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) in the dual roles of the White Swan & Black Swan in an ambitious new production of Swan Lake. But Nina's desire to be perfect in the role/s takes its toll on her health and sanity. As she journeys to her own dark side to uncoil the dangerous Black Swan within her, she not only drives a wedge between her and her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey), she also forms a twisted, love-hate friendship with Lily (Mila Kunis), a rival dancer. Can Nina survive becoming her own dark doppelganger with her crumbling sanity intact?  

With its acidic look at the world of ballet and its genre-bending fusion of psychological terror, physiological transformation, and bad girl behavior, Black Swan is certainly not for little girls who dream of becoming ballerinas themselves. Neither is it a movie for the squeamish and prudish viewer who prefers conventional films that come with  predictable, feel-good conclusions.  

What director Darren Aronofsky and scriptwriters Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin have fashioned in Black Swan is a beguiling, unforgettable picture about duality and contrasts, between black and white, reality and fantasy, reality and reflection. This is an almost colorless film where the characters and the sets they inhabit are dressed in black and white for the most part (Only when Nina decides to have fun and drink in a bar do warm colors like red and orange erupt onscreen). More subtle than the costume and set design in evoking these contrasts is Nina's perception of reality and fantasy, which are constantly overlapping and therefore indistinguishable from one another. Did Nina really see a past-her-prime ballerina (Winona Ryder) stab her own face? Did Nina really make out with her arch-rival Lily after they had a few drinks? Did Nina crush her domineering mother's fingers as an act of retaliation for years of abuse?   

Heightening the fragile Nina's perilous journey further are a couple of horrific shockers that take place when she's alone and at her most vulnerable in the bathroom. These moments, which wouldn't have been out of place in Alfred Hitchcock's horror thriller Psycho or David Cronenberg's cautionary sci-fi remake of The Fly, use scare tactics and some very graphic, bloody visual effects that will make it impossible for anyone to describe Black Swan as a typical Academy Award nominee for Best Picture.

Being a movie about duality, Aronofsky also has the smarts to use reflective surfaces on subway cars, dressing rooms and bathrooms to show Nina not only who she is, but more importantly, the frightening creature she is becoming. Suffice it to say that no other film in recent years has made such artful, economical and misleading use of the reflection motif as Aronofsky has in Black Swan.

And while there are those who will criticize the director for going overboard with his depiction of disfigurement, transformation and duality in the movie, what can't be denied is the mesmerizing power of Natalie Portman's work. As the pure and innocent White Swan who also wants to manifest the unbridled aggression and passion of the Black Swan, Portman's Nina is an unforgettable portrait of  the performance artist's desire to become the role he or she is tasked to portray, all consequences to the performer be damned.

That level of commitment is apparent all throughout the weird concoction that is Black Swan not only from Portman, but from everyone else in the cast and crew who helped   give the film its bizarre beauty. And that's why it worked for me, sci-fi special effects, creepy horror movie scares and all.       


Rating: 4 out of 5 Spots ••••



Photos from the Black Swan Facebook page

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