It’s no secret that Darren Aronofsky likes to grapple with some dark themes in his works. Just take a look at “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) or “mother!” (2017), for example–it’s obvious he’s not afraid to push the envelope of what we expect to see on the silver screen, and his 2010 psychological horror film “Black Swan” starring Natalie Portman is no exception to this rule.
Of all the words I could use to describe the feel of “Black Swan,” the first one that comes to mind is intimate. The film deals with something that every artist, no matter his or her medium, struggles with: perfectionism. From the very beginning, we as an audience see that its seed is rooted deeply in main character Nina, a ballet dancer vying for the lead role in Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”
Deeply intertwined with Nina’s perception of herself, her perfectionistic tendencies grow throughout the film and influence everything she does, forcing her to compare herself with those around her to see how she measures up. She’s so deathly afraid that she’s not good enough to be considered with her peers and constantly feels judged by them. This intimate feeling of being closely observed and assessed is achieved through the inclusion of Nina’s doppelgänger, of whom she continually catches fleeting glimpses throughout the film.
With fantastic performances from Portman, who was able to portray both the White and Black Swans–and was awarded the Oscar for Best Actress for doing so–and the rest of the cast (Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder), “Black Swan” soars above the bar for modern horror films. The inclusion of speedy camera movements to emphasize Nina’s worsening anxiety (especially in her audition scene, wow), the frenzied music which almost takes on a life of its own sometimes, and the attention to detail in intimate close ups makes the technical prowess of this film undeniable.
While Aronofsky makes his personal stance on what perfectionism does to an artist pretty clear, I have to say that this film is quite perfect. It’s intense, it’s gripping, and it ticks all the boxes of what I want in a psychological horror film–the most important being that it deals with something I’m actually terrified of as an artist myself. But, as Nina’s doppelgänger reminds us…no one is ever criticizing us as harshly as we are criticizing ourselves.
Filmnetic Grade: A+
How do you feel about “Black Swan?” It’s one of my favorite movies ever. Leave your comments below!