BLACK SWAN (Darren Aronofsky)
There is no competition at all. If Natalie Portman doesn't bag the Oscar for Best Actress, the Academy should evaporate.
Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN is an intriguing character study of an artist struggling to achieve perfection, and a psychological observation as well of a human being possessed by the character she is dying to portray: the Swan Queen.
The film opens as Nina Sayers (Portman) dances in dim light with a partner, with Cinematographer Matthew Libatique circling his shots around the graceful moves. The scene then cuts into Nina waking up in bed, and we follow her as she rise to near stardom.
When an audition for the ballet company's opening salvo for the new season begins, Nina pushes herself to the limit to get the lead part in THE SWAN LAKE. When she gets it, she pushes the limits further; tortured by her controlling mother (Barbara Hershey), a jealous former ballerina (a powerful supporting role by Winona Ryder), the company's head Thomas LeRoy (Vincent Cassel), and an equally talented but amateur ballerina named Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina's mind fills with insecurity and fear and ego that we, the audience also sees what she sees.
Suddenly Nina begins hallucinating, seeing scars that are never there, and accepting fantasies as fact. In the climax, there is a multiple twist that plays with our minds into what really is happening. At the end, the resolution statement of Aronofsky is that death is the ultimate price for perfection. Depressing, but mostly true.
Like a well-staged performance, we are able to witness BLACK SWAN as a sort of backstage access pass into the lives of the performers, especially Nina, until we are led to the grand act where all the hysteria culminates in an unexpected show.
Through the use of jump cuts, handheld shots, and effective dim lighting, director Darren Aronofsky, cinematographer Matthew Libatique, and editor Andrew Weisblum maximizes the first-person experience, rendering a somber mood that is both haunting and mesmerizing. We are transported in a world that is dreamlike, and complimentary to that is the confusion to be felt since not all are what they seem to be.
Aronofsky uses the SWAN LAKE metaphor to mirror Nina's transformation from white swan to black swan, or from light to dark. As Nina becomes closer to perfection, she loses more grip on reality.
The choreography is fluid. Portman is pitch perfect as a ballerina. Kunis is able, too. That final scene where Portman becomes a swan (complete with actual wings) is plain wicked.
Again, if Portman doesn't bring home the bacon, I am going to destroy the Kodak Theatre.
Kidding aside, Portman reached out to me and broke my heart. That scene when she learned that she is going to be the lead in SWAN LAKE and she calls her mother in the bathroom cubicle, that was pure talent. Portman perfectly evoked a combined feeling of joy and hysteria. She couldn't believe that she actually landed the role, despite her imperfections and distractions.
Do yourself a favor and go see BLACK SWAN in the big screen. The experience is just too vague for words.