Saturday, February 26, 2011

Black Swan: A Strange Bird

"We open our season with Swan Lake. Done to death, I know. But not like this." - Vincent Cassel as Director Micheal Brennan
After weeks of receiving mixed reviews from overseas, Black Swan finally opened in Hong Kong this past weekend just in time for the Oscars. Like Tom Stoppard's 1990 film, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Black Swan is true metatheatre. It plucks characters from a fictional world, in this case Swan Lake, and reimagines them in a different context while still retaining ties to the original. The world of Black Swan isn't meant to be "real"; it's fictional, created in part by Peter Tchaikovsky, composer of Swan Lake, in collaboration with Black Swan's director, Darren Aronofsky.

Aronofsky pulls off a genuine coup with this remix by smearing together different genres and archetypes. The results are stunning. Characters simultaneously rehearse and act in an "artificial" world, one created by the only "gods" worth mentioning - artists, authors, composers, directors. As a result, Natalie Portman is much more than simply Nina, a talented, but troubled ballerina from Manhattan preparing for the lead role in Swan Lake; she's also the embodiment of the twin characters Odette (the White Swan) and Odile (the Black Swan) from Tchaikovsky's ballet.

But Black Swan is anything but an absurdist farce or existential treatise like Stoppard's Rosencrantz. It's a terrifying psychological thriller, a fantasy mind-fuck that smudges both conscious and subconscious worlds into a dream-like trance, pulling the viewer into its orbit with the same gravitational force as Nina's visceral pirouettes.

Portman is great, but like Winnona Ryder before her - who delivers a brief and compelling performance - she's too complacent at times when more Dionysian rapture is needed. The three other main characters - Vincent Cassel as the "sorcerer" who casts a spell over Nina; Barbara Hershey as the psycho-mum; and Mila Kunis as Nina's evil doppelgänger - all fill their designated archetypes perfectly. Aronofsky has succeeded in creating something truly unique - a mash of genres and goosebumps.

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