Indiewire's Todd McCarthy, filing from the Venice Film Festival, isn't as blown away by Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan as Obsessed With Film's Rob Beames, who fell to his knees and had kittens, or In Contention's Guy Lodge, who experienced heart fibrillations.
While acknowledging Aronofsky's fully-earned rep as "a serious, driven director interested in discovering and charting outer boundaries," McCarthy has a problem with Black Swan's equation between fervent commitment to art and offing yourself, and with a finale that he feels is excessive and "grand guignol"-ish.
"Much as I'm enamored of The Red Shoes, I nonetheless always find myself jumping out of the film the moment Moira Shearer pirouettes into the path of the oncoming train at the climax," he begins. "In that not one but two of the driven dancers in Black Swan seem to subscribe to the theory that a life in art may require the ultimate sacrifice -- or at least that life may not be worth living if their creativity can't be pursued to its limits -- one must presume that Aronofsky flirts with such a view himself; Mickey Rourke's wrestler was certainly cut from the same cloth."
"Black Swan takes the idea of giving one's all for art to a morbid extreme," he continues. "Applying the gritty handheld technique he successfully employed in the working class environs of The Wrestler to the rarefied domain of classical ballet, Aronofsky swooningly explores the high tension neuroses and sexual psychodrama of a ballerina on the brink of simultaneous triumph and breakdown.
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"With Natalie Portman, in the demanding leading role, equaling her director in unquestioned commitment, the central issue for the viewer is how far one is willing to follow the film down the road to oblivion for art's sake.
"As a sensory experience for the eyes and ears, Black Swan provides bountiful stimulation. Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique choreograph the camera in beautiful counterpoint to Portman's dance moves, especially in rehearsals, and the muted color scheme on rather grainy stock look like a more refined version of what the director did on The Wrestler.
"But when the script by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz, based on the latter's story, struggles to carve out a real-world parallel to the life-and-death struggle depicted in the dance story, it goes over the top in something approaching grand guignol fashion."