I've seen four of the five full-length films directed by Darren Aronofsky. After seeing Black Swan I'll have to see the see the fifth (The Fountain) so I can come to some sort of conclusion as to whether or not he's brilliant (i.e. Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) or that he merely sometimes gets lucky and makes a brilliant film if he gets the right material to work with- otherwise the results are hot messes that gather brilliant critical reviews for reasons beyond my comprehension (Pi, Black Swan).
I'm flabbergasted this film has provoked such intense, largely positive, responses from the press and a lot of people I know personally. To me it was Repulsion Redux, and I'm not much of a fan of that particular film either. Sure, here's the part where you can say "What? He doesn't like Repulsion? Rube!" Fine, have at me, though shame on you if you don't know Polanski made a similar film a decade later that is far superior- The Tenant. I suspect it's not as popular/highly thought of because the crazy person in it is portrayed by ugly Roman Polanksi and not beautiful Catherine Deneuve.
What are Black Swan's failures? Let's begin with Portman's character, Nina. Who is she, besides a frail perfectionist dancer on the edge? We don't know. Is she the unwilling victim of a smothering stage mother? She sure does seem codependent, calling mommy with all the news. And? So what? She hasn't a single friend- either within or without the ballet company. Her life outside the company is non-existent. Fine if that's the case, which would be believable, but show us the dedication to her art, which we never get. Nina is a cipher living in a silo. How did she get to be the one most likely to be the Queen Swan? This movie doesn't give us the slightest clue. If the filmmakers don't care enough about a backstory why should the audience? More to the point, if you don't give us a reason to care about the lead character other than it's Natalie Portman, skinny as hell and obviously suffering to be an "artiste" for this film and that's supposed to be enough? Sorry- I don't buy it. Try again.
The dynamic between her and the artistic director of the company plays totally false. He's looking for a dancer who can perform both the White and Black Swan. At what point does the audience have any inkling she can do both? More importantly, at what point does he? This is never made clear. Is he just a cad, looking for his next ingenue, since the last one is now past her prime and ready for pasture? (Winona Ryder- the most believable performance in the entire film). He comes across as wanting to sleep with her more than cast her as the lead in what will be a major event in his own career. Does this make any sense? None at all.
We are also supposed to believe ballet dancers at this level of the game would actually go out and willingly get loaded and do drugs the night before a premiere performance? Come on. I'm all for suspension of disbelief but the whole idea is just lame. It's like trying to imagine Obama shooting up heroin the night before he's inaugurated. It just doesn't work that way- not at this level. I don't care how crazy you are.
It's not a dance movie. It's not a horror movie. It's not a successful movie about a person falling into the depths of insanity or schizophrenia. It's really just hype. Don't believe it.
Want to see something much more interesting and well crafted based on a similar theme? Try David Cronenberg's neglected masterpiece Spider, which features an under-acknowledged performance by Ralph Fiennes that will floor you. Or at least compare it to Shine, because Black Swan is just a mess masquerading as something it's not- and on top of that it's wholly unbelievable at every turn. If you want to buy the argument it's an arty horror film, your time would be much better spent rewatching The Shining.