Stylistically the film is excellent. Regarding both cinematography and mise-en-scene (particularly lighting), the film has a powerful atmosphere; the gritty mood captured with 16mm inspires intense emotional resonance. Moreover, the extreme blacks and whites (of clothing, environment, artifacts, etc), and powerful shading transforms content into form, allowing the viewer to immediately and viscerally feel the rollercoaster of emotions conveyed by Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers.
Furthermore, Natalie Portman’s performance, above all, is astonishing; I have never been much of a fan of her in the past, but I was truly amazed. Apparently she had been using a variety of prescription drugs (both stimulants and depressants/sedatives) in order to fully express the emotions of her character. I don’t know if this is true, but I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s quite interesting that her character feels the pressure and obsession of being “perfect” – so perfect that she even dies (killing herself), just as the Swan is supposed to do in the story – while, simultaneously, it feels like Natalie Portman, herself, is fueled by an obsession to be perfect. Her sharp changes in mood are so striking you ostensibly feel the brevity of her split personality disorder. The contrast between her white and black swan, her fragility and strength, is immense.
There are few shortcomings of this film. Primarily, the story is so focused that it appears rather one-dimensional. This is my one discontent with Darren Aronofsky, which hinders me from considering any of his films as “masterpieces”, nor him as a favourite auteur. While I love the content of his films, and I find them stylistically and emotionally engaging, they never quite sufficiently engage me on an intellectual level.
One criterion for a masterpiece, to me, is depth. The scope of a masterpiece, in my eyes, is immense; it touches on every aspect of the human condition (not merely one as Aronofsky does), and makes general and universal statements about existence. They are typically so universal, and so widely interpretive, that you never fully understand the film on an intellectual level; instead, you can view the film time and time again, and get something different, though equally distinct and real, as the time before. With Aronofsky, his theme is so focused that you can understand his points quite clearly upon the first viewing; in other words, while I consider the impression of his films lasting on an emotional level, they do not so much last on an intellectual level. However, for what they are, his film are brilliant and unique, and the emotional resonance is so enthralling that I can overlook the one-dimensional themes.
Overall, Black Swan is an excellent film, and amongst my favourites of the year. Darren Aronofsky, I believe, is one of the finest modern filmmakers in America, and I look forward to his next film.