Darren Aronofsky's new film Black Swan was difficult to watch because I knew how it was going to end, but I didn't know why bad things were happening and whether or not they were real.
This confusion stems from the fact that the film is from Nina's (Natalie Portman's) perspective. We see what she experiences without any indication of whether or not what she's experiencing is real. Then, we start to realize that much of what we had believed to be true is not true (never even happened, really). But as soon as we start to understand this, the film reaches such a level of intensity through great use of music and frantic cutting that we forget we've been tricked by what Nina has seen before. We start believing what we see again. This part (the suspense, the fear) is very well-crafted. And it is oddly triumphant- much like The Wrestler.
What doesn't work so well is the premise itself. In the end, the question becomes "Can an artist immortalize herself through one role (or one work of art)? And can the process destroy the person inside of the artist?" We don't get the critical distance to think about the answers to this question until we start to catch on to what is going on. Throughout, we are too concerned with Nina's physical well-being as her body falls apart to care about why this is happening.
Performances from the actors are all great. Mila Kunis's rough around the edges ballerina was surprisingly believable, and Vincent Cassel was creepy as the director and (at least in part) the only character who was aware of the questions about artists, their bodies, and their legacies.
I'm always impressed but turned off by Aronofsky's films. The most disgusting things are confronted unflinchingly. He is, of course, not the only director who employs this tactic. But he is the only one who clearly (at least by the end) does it in order to make us think about why we're alive and what alive actually is.