Black Swan Review
Okay, lesson time! There is a philosophical theory called “Black Swan Theory,” which tries to explain 3 things:
1. The disproportionate role of high-impact, hard to predict, and rare events that are beyond normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
2. The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods.
3. The psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to uncertainty and unaware of the massive role of the rare event in historical affairs.
Typically, Black Swan events are identified as being a surprise (to the viewer), having a major impact, and afterword the event is rationalized by hindsight as if it had been expected.
Now, Black Swan Theory doesn’t really have any relation to film in general (as far as I know), but they certainly occur within film, and when they do it affects the audience as well. Take the ending of Fight Club for example (if you haven’t already seen it, then that is your own fault), when Edward Norton’s character suddenly realizes that Tyler Durden (The Surprise) was actually his alter ego this entire time (Major Impact), the film takes you back to show you the way things actually happened (Rationalization).
However, the film does not show you the many, many, MANY clues it leaves to tell you that Tyler does not actually exist. Ever since Fight Club was released we’ve seen a slight decline in psychological thrillers that are willing to take things so far, particularly because audiences are now on the lookout for such a twist to happen. Admit it, if you’ve seen the trailer for Black Swan you’ve already been coming up with your own theory to it’s strange events contained within. You probably aren’t far off, but I guarantee you didn’t figure it all out.
Black Swan follows Nina (Natalie Portman), an up-and-coming star in the New York Ballet. Her company’s director has decided to produce a new performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which requires a ballerina to portray the Swan Queen, who must perform as the innocent and elegant White Swan as well as the more sensual Black Swan. While Nina is perfect as the White Swan, she is unable to perform as the seductive Black Swan. When Nina is reluctantly cast as the Swan Queen, she struggles to find her darker side in portraying the Black Swan part. At the same time, a new performer named Lily (Mila Kunis) is said to be perfect as the Black Swan, and Nina begins to see her as a doppleganger.
The film has a lot of fun and pulls many tricks to confuse you whenever Nina and Lily are together. Nina has strange visions, hears things, and Lily always seems to have ulterior motives in their “friendship.” Also, whenever they appear to be talking and sitting across from one another, the two of them seem to physically switch sides infrequently. There’s also the ever-present mirror in most scenes when Nina and Lily are together, even one that makes the two of them appear to become one person (you’ll just have to see it). To the seasoned filmgoer who is paying attention, these subtle hints all seem to be leading to one thing: the Tyler Durden twist. However, this is where the Black Swan Event comes into play as the twist here is certainly more difficult to predict. There’s more going on here than meets the eye, and Darren Aronofsky is too smart to spoon-feed you the same twist again.
All the performances in the film are great. Admittedly, there is a fairly small cast of characters, but they hold your attention and interest throughout the film. Natalie Portman has given the best performance of her career, it’s definitely not one to miss.
The cinematography is mostly a lot of cinema verite’ (what you could sometimes call “shaky cam”) which is actually a very delicate film technique: hold the camera too steady and the effect is lost, hold it too loosely and it becomes unwatchable (see: The Hurt Locker; action scenes in the Bourne trilogy). The camera work keeps you grounded to reality for most of the film, helping the audience to question the plausibility of the seemingly supernatural events that are occurring to Portman’s character. But the handheld camera becomes particularly effective in the ballet scenes, in which the camera almost becomes a dancer itself. I’ve never been interested in ballet, but Black Swan showed me not only the struggles that dancers must go through, but also the beauty that is shown through their hardships.
Also of note is the score of the film. Most of the music is actual Tchaikovsky or rearrangements of his work, particularly from Swan Lake of course. The beauty of the music frequently contradicts the many horrors faced by Nina, and becomes particularly effective in both the film’s climax and ending.
Black Swan is actually only my second Aronofsky film. His only other film I’ve seen is The Wrestler, which I honestly just couldn’t get into. It lost my attention very quickly, but at the same time I recognized how much care and work went into it’s making. In the end, I was happy when the credits finally rolled. Going from that, it would be quite difficult to predict just how much I enjoyed Black Swan. It is an absolute must-see and easily one of the best films of the year.
Production Value: 10
Entertainment Value: 9.5