Natalie Portman is incredible in Black Swan, the film for which she won her first Academy Award. It’s the story of a ballerina who must tap into her ‘dark side’ to play the Swan Queen in a New York City performance of Swan Lake. Portman’s performance is a variation on Ingrid Bergman’s in Gaslight, another psychological thriller where you’re never quite sure if things are really happening or if our protagonist is going insane. Portman spills her guts and pulls out every weapon in her acting arsenal here. She’s fearless, raw, vulnerable, determined, and monstrous — all in the same movie. I can’t think of a part that calls for greater range, and the girl nails it.
Director Darren Aronofsky uses some of the same aural and editorial tricks he employed in Requiem for a Dream to depict nightmarish moments where reality collides with paranoid fantasy. I would have preferred that the film’s finale were a little more restrained in this area. There’s a little too much CGI at a point where Portman already has a firm grasp on her character’s literal transformation. But it’s a minor gripe about an otherwise horrific thriller that hits the ground running (love the impressionistic opening sequence) and never lets up.
And I use the word ‘horror’ because it absolutely applies. Black Swan is about losing control, about losing your body, and not just in a hallucinatory or Kafka-esque way. At one point, Portman’s character is told to masturbate in order to tap her inner passions. When she finally tries one morning, she gets really into it. And in the heat of the moment, she turns her head and opens her eyes. And she sees her mother asleep in the chair beside the bed. People often ask me what movies I find scary, and as much as I love horror movies, I don’t really get scared. But the next time they ask, I’m telling them about Black Swan.
Scott studied film and sociology at Indiana University and is currently the video producer for a large publishing company. He is the director of several independent films, including "House of Hope," "Off the Beaten Path," "The Day Joe Left," and "Found." For more about Scott, visit www.scottschirmer.com. Scott is also one of the principal organizers of the Dark Carnival Film Festival. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)