Darren Aronofsky has oft been described as the marmite director: you either love him, or hate him. It is easy to see how many will love Black Swan, and how many will hate it, but I loved it. It follows the mental breakdown of an aspiring ballerina (Portman's dazzling performance as Nina) in her preparation to play the Swan Queen in her company's latest rendition of Swan Lake. Her problem: she is fragile, innocent, timid - all the characterisitics of the White Swan; but in order to play the role, she must unlock her debauched and darker side for her character's evil twin, the Black Swan.
As the story unfolds Aronofsky places Nina in a series of awkward interactions, moments of simmering tension that reminded me of Von Trier's dramatic masterpiece, Dogville, where we see Nicole Kidman's callow creation, Grace, suffer such discomforting behaviour it seems so surreal and unlikely, yet never manages to stray from utterly believable. It is the same stomach-churning we suffer with Nina, as the viewer not only witnesses her decline, but also suffers it, as we are shown her physical decomposition and transformation into the Black Swan. Portman completely immerses herself in the role, just as her character does in the film, and her efforts have paid off with critical acclaim and Oscar buzz surrounding her. Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey also give strong performances in a film with no easy roles; each character having that bittersweet blend to make the viewer wonder if they are good or bad, white or black.
Like The Wrestler, Black Swan appears to have been filmed in the same documentary manner giving the film an unsettlingly realistic appearance, none of that shine and gloss so frequently demonstrated in the multiplex hits from Cameron, Bay and Bruckheimer. What we have here instead is the organic grit gained by shooting handheld and in 16mm, and what makes it all the more prevalent, is that by using this technique Aronofsky further unsettles the viewer with its stark realism; it appears so unbearably visceral. The only way to watch Black Swan is with an open mind; let it wash over you and it won't be long before you've forgotten where you are. Aronosfky's latest is the masterpiece The Wrestler nearly was.