Thursday, January 27, 2011
The Performances: Natalie Portman in Black Swan
As Nina Sayers, the ballerina dancing on that fine line between sanity and madness, Natalie Portman delivers a performance that is startling, compelling and engrossing. The role requires Portman to essentially lay herself bare, as Nina's most deep-seated anxieties are exposed to the surface as they drive her further and further from reality.
For most of the film Nina is divided against herself, part of her still rooted in reality, the other part totally divorced from it, so far removed from the real world that she comes to believe that she's literally transforming into a swan. There is a moment towards the end of the film where this division is very apparent, when Nina is confronted with Lily, very much alive despite Nina's belief that she's killed her. It's in the way that Portman briefly flicks her eyes to the side, in the direction of the bathroom where Nina believes she's hidden Lily's body; it's a moment when her reality smashes up against everyone else's reality and she must make a choice: pull back and re-enter the real world, or take that final step into the abyss of madness.
The boldness of Portman's performance in the film's second half perhaps makes the most lasting impact, but the quieter, more subtle performance in the first half is just as important. We need to believe that Nina is fragile enough to be susceptible to the psychological attack she undergoes later, and Portman's depiction of Nina in the first half sets that up nicely. Of all the scenes in Black Swan, one of the ones that stands out the most for me is the scene in which ballet director Thomas is picking dancers to audition for Swan Lake. Nina seems so guileless in this scene, her desire to be picked written all over her face. For me, this is where Portman does her bravest work, where she's at her most exposed. To be seen so desperately desiring something is a rare and courageous thing and I don't think any other scene in the film so perfectly expresses how vulnerable Nina is.
Nina is a complex character because she must at once display such great weakness and such great strength. Portman is able to portray that contradiction in a way that is not just effective, but totally mesmerizing. She has already been much rewarded her the performance and should she win Best Actress, it will not be surprising. Certainly, it would be well deserved.
Posted by Norma Desmond at 12:00 PM