catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 1 :: 2011.01.14 — 2011.01.27


Dark bird ascending

Darren Aronofsky’s new film, Black Swan, is in almost every way a companion piece to his last one, The Wrestler.  While that movie examined a society in which masculinity has been made into a bloody spectator sport, this one follows a young woman torn in two by a culture that wants her simultaneously to be an infantilized, idealized Little Princess and an aggressive, “liberated” sexual embodiment (the White and Black Swans of Swan Lake).  While The Wrestler found its synergy in the manly world of professional wrestling, Black Swan is perfectly embodied in the ballet world; both pursuits are nestled uncomfortably between sport and art, and both are loaded with associations of identity and class.  Both films follow the sure but steady destruction of the protagonist.  Both end with an ambiguous final leap.  In both, the camera is obsessed with the particularities and frailties of the human body — both violent and sexual.

It is this last aspect that makes Black Swan (again, like The Wrestler) selective viewing.  This is no chick flick.  The film contains graphic sexuality (hetero, homo and solo) and cringe-inducing moments of physical deformation.  (If you, like me, have a hang-up about fingernails, consider yourself warned.  Ditto for feet.)  Despite (and through) these images, Aronofsky builds a truly spectacular portrait of womanhood destroyed and id unleashed.

The virtuoso music and camera work bob and weave with the dance and movement of both body and soul, embodying a grace and recklessness that sweep the viewer away with little thought to the extreme preparation and ingenuity that went into them.  Surely, this is what a ballet movie must look and sound like.  After the verité of The WrestlerBlack Swan is a return to form for the director, using a visual style that harkens back to both The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream.  The acting is also nimble and well-executed.  Natalie Portman deserves her praise, and Mila Kunis proves she is a real actress.

Black Swan is an intense, beautiful journey of a girl who is stuck between being a dove and a bird of prey.  In the end, she is sundered by the demands and insecurities of those around her, and we are transported in a way that only Aronofsky can transport us. I am deeply glad for a profound psychological thriller shaped by such masterful hands.  It is a charged mixture of Fight Club and Vertigo: a hallucinatory pirouette, but not a trip everyone will enjoy.

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