Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 2010. Fox Searchlight Pictures, , Protozoa Pictures, Phoenix Pictures, Dune Entertainment. Story by Andres Heinz, Screenplay by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J. McLaughlin. Cinematography by Matthew Libatique. Produced by Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Brian Oliver. Music by Clint Mansell. Production Design by Therese DePrez. Costume Design by Amy Westcott. Film Editing by Andrew Weisblum. Academy Awards 2010. Golden Globe Awards 2010. Independent Spirit Awards 2010. Toronto International Film Festival 2010.
The physical manifestations of stress as imposed upon a person trying to reach the top of her game are examined, exploited and gloriously splayed across the screen in this masterpiece by Darren Aronofsky. Natalie Portman sheds twenty pounds from her already slim frame to play a New York City ballerina whose desire to achieve razor-sharp perfection places mental and physical duress upon her body (and the weight loss on the actress, while disturbing, makes it so much more believable). She is chosen to play the lead in her company’s production of Swan Lake after her determination captures the eye of her director (Vincent Cassel in an irresistibly diabolical performance) while her impossible goals inspire his most manipulative traits. At home, her overbearing mother (a terrifying Barbara Hershey) keeps a close eye on this young woman, simultaneously encouraging her career while fearing its negative effects. At rehearsal, the new girl in the company (Mila Kunis) tries to become Portman’s friend but is kept at bay as our heroine becomes subconsciously enraged by Kunis’ passionate style of dancing that does not seek perfection in movement but comes across with so much more honesty and vitality. These characters and more are all held up as mirrors to Portman’s increasingly fragile starlet as this beautifully shot, perfectly directed and edited psychological drama goes from high intensity to unbearable angst: Aronofsky begins by jangling the nerves and never releases the tension throughout the entire film, but includes enough passion, humour and squeamish terror to keep you from being exhausted by the experience. Many of its psychological methods are simplistic, and it seems to set itself up for secrets that are far too easily predicted, but it never matters; the director paints every movement with such bold, colourful strokes, the film’s dicier moments really tapping into viewers’ primal fears, that the manipulations all work to great satisfaction. The dancing is fantastic, with Portman seamlessly convincing you that she’s a pro, and Winona Ryder contributes a cameo that gives the film its spine, as the prima ballerina who ends up in the scary and hilarious position that awaits all who seek the glory of this beautifully unreal artform.