This dream must be madness

It’s wet, cold and icy and I’m on my way to the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak to see Black Swan. I shouldn’t be out, but there are ten friggin’ best picture nominees and I’ve got to get rolling. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow.

I shake off the cold (and the rage I feel when a single droplet of ice water crashes down onto my head, seemingly piercing my skull and trickling down my spine, leaving behind an icy cold pain in its wake) and meet a friend of mine in the lobby. She’s my go-to companion for these types of art house films because they depress my wife.

Sometimes a film hits you differently when you’re in a mood, and it turns out that the tension of my drive in, the icy cold and my run in with that water droplet scud missile might have put me in the perfect frame of mind for Darren Aronovsky’s hyper-tense, psycho-sexual ballet thriller. Now that’s a subgenre!

Black Swan tells the story of Nina (Natalie Portman), a young ballerina vying for the dual lead role in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake as both the white and black swan. Her instructor, Thomas Leroy, played with lecherous arrogance by Vincent Cassel, informs her that while she is perfect for the demure, trepedatious white swan, her inhibitions keeps her from perfecting the freer spirited black swan. He seems more than willing to give her some tips on how she might lighten up (wink wink). What a guy.

Soon, a dancer named Lily (Mila Kunis) begins to move from Nina’s peripheral to her cross hairs as her only real rival for the part of the black swan. Lily, it seems, is exactly the kind of undisciplined, highly sexual dancer Leroy is looking for. Too repressed to start hair pulling and name calling, Nina begins to hallucinate. Or does she?

The true success of Black Swan lies in Aronovsky and Portman’s commitment to its madness. The story (and Nina) is clearly a bit over-the-top, but Portman’s performance is fearless. Her Nina is the epitome of fragility. She is tightly wound, a staunch perfectionist in her movements, always appearing to be on the verge on tears. Her decent into madness isn’t so much a steady decline as a dash down Splash Mountain. Aronovsky keeps us in her head with tight close ups, a camera that almost never strays from Nina and a ramped up soundtrack (Seriously, everything from her footsteps to her breathing, as well as a few more unpleasant sounds, is palpable).

The film heads where it heads with no detours and it relies on the viewer’s willingness to take the ride. The minute you begin to question it, Black Swan’s lost you. It is big. It is melodramatic. But so is ballet and, more to point, that’s how Nina perceives it. This is not about a role; it’s about life and death.

Black Swan is nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress in a leading role (Natalie Portman), Best Cinematography (Matthew Libatique) & Best Director (Darren Aronovsky)

2 Responses to “This dream must be madness”
  1. Lindsey says:

    This was an amazing film. It’s absolutely haunting. I’d love to see it again and take notes on what’s real and what’s not.

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