By Caitlin Gardner
You are never meant to feel comfortable watching Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Frenetic editing, innumerable close-ups, shaky camera work, fearless photography of the human body, and the agonizing sound effects all combine to make the experience a mesmerizing, if not unsettling, experience.
All of these effects bring about the transformation of our damaged heroine, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), to embody something frightening yet almost meant to be.
Black Swan is a simple film plot-wise. Nina Sayer’s ballet company plans to perform the classic Swan Lake. You are told about the story enough times in this film if you do not know it.
The ballet director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) wants a lead to inhabit both the White and Black Swan alter egos, and so begins the Madonna-Whore Complex metaphor.
Nina begins to realize she is not just the White Swan as a performer; in her sheltered life with her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), ballet is her only way of life and expression.
Could what Nina wants to conquer outwardly have to first happen inward? Is this a fatal flaw or inevitable for her emancipation?
Black Swan, thought not a horror film itself, owes a great debt to the genre. Surely De Palma’s Carrie, Cronenberg’s The Fly, and Argento’s Suspiria were influences along with works from Michael Powell, Roman Polanski, and even The Twilight Zone in structure.
Natalie Portman has your full attention as Nina. The sounds and images of her deterioration are painful. In a moment in which you think she has found pleasure, a cut to another shot makes you re-examine what has happened to her in a very different context, each time more piercing than the previous.
When I mention how well done the sounds are in Black Swan, it is even more appreciated when Aronfosky employs visual effects that gradually get more and more literal to the plot. Some effects work far better than others, and the duds are just really goofy.
Black Swan embraces its B-movie conventions and derivations. You will squirm in your seats as often as you laugh at the humor in the film, and that is what makes the craziness of this movie so accessible.