Dancing With Madness

Natalie Portman in Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan"
Natalie Portman in Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan"

Darren Aronofsky is a gifted destructor. I’ve come to realize that no one can maim, disfigure and abuse a human being, both physically and mentally, like he can. He takes them to a level seldom attained, stressing mind and body to their breaking point, all for our entertainment. It’s his calling and his latest cinematic venture “Black Swan” is a crowning example.

“Black Swan” tells the story of a woman’s struggle to master the coveted lead in a professional production of “Swan Lake,” all the while pushing herself further into insanity. The film’s story strongly parallels the events of the ballet it portrays, creating a dark mirror between the two, distorting reality from art and art from reality. A visceral, visual delight with Tchaikovsky’s iconic and haunting score a la Clint Mansell backing it all up, “Black Swan” makes a day at the cinema physical again. As one watches the film, each subtle, fleeting movement of the dancers’ bodies further tears them apart and the viewer feels it as well. The striking, almost alien motions they go through can only be described as hypnotizing and shudder-inducing.

Natalie Portman takes on her role with maddening grace; losing herself in the strict demands of her art all the while slowly losing herself. She is challenged at every turn, whether to come out of her innocence and supersede her fellow dancers or to achieve independence from her creepily severe and coddling mother. The chemistry between Portman and co-star Mila Kunis is readily apparent and the two successfully pull off one of the most seductive scenes in recent cinema history.

Much like “The Wrestler,” the film’s cinematic companion piece, “Black Swan” is a tale of one’s art becoming one’s life, and in many ways more important than life itself. It is this devotion to a craft, even to the point where all else is secondary, that is a powerful concept and Aronofsky has taken his specialty to another level. The erotic and dramatic wardrobe of the dancers is gorgeous and has successfully transformed me into a ballet man.

“Black Swan” skillfully disturbs as it entertains, blowing away any preconceptions that ballet is anything but a beautiful, arduous art of struggle. Portman portrays a young woman’s downfall stunningly and the physical lengths she went to for the role, including mastering ballet in such a short period of time, are worthy of much note.

The film is a dark, sexual drug for the senses and simply bleeds an engrossing creepiness that awed me. This film made me uncomfortable, a feat hard to achieve, but I happily embraced it. See “Black Swan” and watch someone raze themself with poise.