‘Black Swan’ opens Oscar season with dark mystique

No one knows how to direct a chilling masterpiece like Darren Aronofsky—his portfolio features movie favorites “The Wrestler” and “Requiem for a Dream”—but this time, he’s making a lot more money doing it.

Aronofsky’s most recent release, “Black Swan,” has brought in more than $1.3 million in its first three days in theaters. That’s about 20 times the amount “Requiem” brought in its first weekend and six times more than “The Wrestler.”

“Black Swan’s” success, despite its limited release, was no surprise—I had been counting down the days to its release since I saw the trailer in early November. But what did surprise me were the lengths to which the actors (Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel) went to put on a haunting, yet beautiful performance.

Unlike a standard production of “Swan Lake,” where it’s obvious whose role is the antagonist or the protagonist, Aronofsky’s rendition leaves it unclear. The movie watchers must try to guess and re-guess who’s lost their mind, who’s taking advantage of  the main character Nina (Portman) or if anyone really has a grasp on reality at all.

Even supposed protagonist Nina, who spends much of the movie as a dancing, perfection-obsessed waif, turns the corner at some point to become the almost-villain of the production.

The performances by Portman and Kunis are superb—but while Portman’s is unsettling and fragile, Kunis plays her standard wild-child role. It fits so perfectly into Nina’s new reality that I couldn’t help but love Kunis’ portrayal of the dance company’s newest member and Nina’s frenemy.

While  critics  might say that they were left with less mind puzzles than a self-proclaimed “psychological thriller” promises, I’d argue that I was comforted by the closure at the end of Black Swan. This is  true especially after the recent “Inception”-obsessed summer, where it seemed the new bar for a movie to be well-received was to leave loose ends at every possible plot turn and ending.

Black Swan did nothing of the sort. It took viewers along for the ride, as if they were almost part of Portman’s  mental unwind, experiencing it with her, as she, bit by tantalizing bit, loses her grasp on reality. In doing so, she ends up fulfilling her childhood dream of being her dance company’s prima ballerina and satisfies the hard-to-please director, played by Cassel.

What Black Swan lacks in mental twists and turns, it makes up for in an all-star cast, stellar performances and an unmistakable, yet  hard to watch, magnum opus that is undoubtedly making a few waves just in time for the 2011 Oscar season.

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