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Art and Review by: Daniel Albert

I suppose the saying “expect the unexpected” is a worthy advisory phrase for any Darren Aronofsky film.  Having previously viewed some of his other movies (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) I knew quite well what he was capable of, yet adhered to this motto and expected to be given something I couldn’t imagine. Fortunately for me, and I do stress the word fortunately, I wasn’t too sure of the depths he would take his new film Black Swan, and after viewing it I have to say he once again gave me something completely unexpected, even if that’s what I expected.

As I said before I’m no stranger to the mans work.  With this viewing background in tow, along with a high intensity trailer and the header of “psychological thriller”, I knew this was going to be a dark film.  What I didn’t know is just how truly dark the movie could be. 
Black Swan is one of those movies that sneaks up on you.  It plays more like a concerto than a film, using every instrument in the pit to paint a visceral picture for its audience.  It starts off slow and steady, lulling you into the depths of its world, using every tool in the director’s arsenal.  The cinematography is so pitch perfect I felt myself getting agitated more and more with every shot, a discomfort that is completely intentional and in no way haphazard.

What surprised me most about the film however wasn’t just the skilled hand of the artisan behind the scenes, but instead the delicate strokes he used.  The film is essentially about Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) a fragile and timid girl obsessed with perfection.  Nina is finally given her chance to shine at the ballet where she’s been working and we watch her character’s descent into madness, as an obsession with perfection becomes so complete it manifests itself in every facet of the film.  The farther into the depths the she goes, the farther down we go with her, without remorse, because well, hey you kinda asked for it. 

As I watched I got swept along so subtly I hardly felt a transformation at all until the film reached its crescendo and I found myself thinking “Did I see what I think I just saw or am I going nuts?”.  My madness, like many others I’m sure, is in a large part due to a tour de force portrayal of the swan queen by  Portman that will surely earn her Oscar nods come awards season.  The dichotomy of her character makes one wonder whether or not she used a split personality disorder to carry it off so effortlessly.

Being a dark film, there is always the line a director is never allowed to cross where entertainment becomes torture.  A director should never turn on the audience and as this movie progresses Aronofsky traverses this line like a tightrope walker, always pushing but never too far.  Every graphic or violent or disturbing scene serves its purpose as part of a whole and nothing is left in that isn’t absolutely essential.  If the director wants you to be scared or agitated he shows it and if he wants you to be sympathetic he switches gears seamlessly.

However with all this talk of darkness I tread lightly,  I’m definitely not saying there’s no beauty in this film. After all, at the end of the day it is set within a rendition of Swan Lake. What I am saying is that even though the film has heavily dark undertones, the beauty still manages to shine through. In fact I’d have to say that one of the darkest scenes, when Nina’s transformation into the Black Swan is finally complete, I was taken aback by one of the most visually stunning scenes I’ve seen in years.  It was lyrical and sad, reverent, yet twisted and frightening.  You know a film has done it’s job when you experience more than one emotion at a time.

Before I heap more praise upon this movie I’ll just stop and say this film is everything everyone claims it to be, and perhaps even more.  It’s heartfelt and visually stunning, terrifying and sensual, and even at times a bit funny.  You don’t have to be a film snob to enjoy this one.

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