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Black Swan reviews: She Said, He Said

Terrific to see women critics embracing Black Swan. After the cut, a few men who don’t get off on it to same degree.

The New York Times’ Manola Dargis sees everything in Black Swan that the National Board of Review missed:

Played by Natalie Portman in a smashing, bruising, wholly committed performance, the young dancer, Nina, looks more like a child than a woman, her flesh as undernourished as her mind…. It‚Äôs easy to read ‚ÄúBlack Swan‚Äù as a gloss on the artistic pursuit of the ideal. But take another look, and you see that Mr. Aronofsky is simultaneously telling that story straight, playing with the suffering-artist stereotype and having his nasty way with Nina, burdening her with trippy psychodrama and letting her run wild in a sexcapade that will soon be in heavy rotation on the Web… Together they create the solid foundation of truth that makes the slow-creeping hallucinatory flights of fantasy all the more jolting and powerful… ‚ÄúBlack Swan‚Äù is visceral and real even while it‚Äôs one delirious, phantasmagoric freakout.

USA Today, Claudia Puig

To induce a state of dread and mesmerize with beauty is a rare, paradoxical achievement… Like the most macabre nightmares, Black Swan plunges headlong into the dark side. Writer/director Darren Aronofsky fashions a terrifying tale that juxtaposes the grace of a dance film against a twisted horror backdrop. At the center of this dreamlike story is Natalie Portman’s exquisite performance of a troubled ballerina who evolves from timid to seriously unhinged.

New York Daily News, Elizabeth Weitzman

Aronofsky and his three screenwriters walk a thin line throughout, skirting overwrought melodrama without actually falling in. That’s a near-impossible task, requiring considerable skill from everyone involved. Portman, who does most of her own dancing, rises to the occasion with unexpected depth… It’s Aronofsky, though, who deserves the final bow. He has always boasted a unique vision, but as any dancer can attest, it takes years of hard work and discipline to corral talent into art.

What’s fun is how even the handful of relatively averse reviews succeed in making Black Swan sound like delirious fun. David Denby in The New Yorker:

Darren Aronofsky‚Äôs ‚ÄúBlack Swan‚Äù is a luridly beautiful farrago‚Äîa violent fantasia that mixes the tensions of preparing a new production of ‚ÄúSwan Lake‚Äù with sex, blood, and horror-film flourishes… The Grand Guignol can be understood as an invasion of the supernatural into a dancer‚Äôs life, or as the delusions of an ambitious young perfectionist. Aronofsky has it both ways, aestheticizing insanity and playing scare-movie tricks at the same time… Aronofsky understands and reproduces the controlled savagery of ballet‚Äîthe stressed, flaring emotionalism of young dancers, the wracking spiritual and physical demands made on breakable bodies. He films the dancing with a circling, weaving, bobbing camera that seems to be moving (almost dancing itself) in rhythm with the music. The performance sequences at their best come close to ecstasy

(and that’s the second-worst reading Black Swan has received.) Here’s TIME’s Richard Corliss:

Portman’s turn in Black Swan, if it truly impresses American moviegoers, won’t be the sort that caps the steady maturing of a gifted actress. It will have the shock of the new. That helps explain the outbreak of rapture among some critics here; for Black Swan is, among other things, a document of Portman’s obsessive dedication to give a performance beyond what is expected of her ‚Äî and, no less, Aronofsky’s need to wring every raw feeling from his leading lady. That relationship is up on screen too: of a man trying to get a brilliant performance out of a young woman by dominating and manipulating her.

The Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern

Your heart aches, as it’s supposed to, at the sight of Nina, who’s a world-class self-punisher, trying to please everyone in her life while she’s being pressured and threatened‚Äîor so she imagines‚Äîon all sides: “I just want to be perfect,” she whispers to Thomas pleadingly. The touching simplicity of Ms. Portman’s technique gives her character a genuine innocence. What’s more, the actress dances the ballet sequences elegantly. Her work is enhanced, to be sure, by the limited use of a dance double, and by Matthew Libatique’s gorgeously fluid cinematography, but the illusion is as perfect as anything Nina could have hoped for.

The director, Darren Aronofsky, uses all the artifice in his arsenal to portray the terrors that beset Nina in her pursuit of perfection. As she dances on the border between sanity and madness, he blurs the line between reality and fantasy, turning the film into a gothic horror show that is fascinating and disappointing in equal measure. What’s resplendently real, though, is the beauty of Ms. Portman’s performance. She makes the whole lurid tale worthwhile.