Seeing Pi in 1998 was almost as revelatory as seeing Clerks a few years before. Both were done on shoe string budgets and made a concerted effort to move beyond what was then accepted fair for feature length films. Before factoring in post-production costs, Clerks was cheaper to make even as each picture made about the same amount of money. Being able to watch, first hand, the eventual insinuation of independent filmmakers into the broader culture was inspiring. And while a case could be made for Smith abandoning the feel of his earlier films for work in genre pictures, there still usually a bit of dada-esque weirdness in anything he touches.
Darren Aronofsky, by contrast, has somehow been able to retain the exact same feeling of attraction through revulsion in most of his work. Granted, Black Swan doesn’t look like Pi. Some of the hand held shots in which Portman quickly makes her way down the street or into the apartment she shares with her mother is easily traceable back to the claustrophobic interiors from Pi. But more engaging is the director’s ability to make his characters, in this case a ballerina with acute mental problems, seem both beautiful and disgusting all at once.
Portraying the character, it looks as if Portman was on a healthy diet of water and crackers. She’s still stunning to look at even while examining the self afflicted scratch marks on her back or wrenching her toes apart. It’s pretty gross, even the sex scenes.
After having finally seen Black Swan, the initial interweb fervor over Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis’ love scene feels forced and slightly amusing. It wasn’t remotely sexy. Certainly, both of those actresses are attractive. In context, the lesbian stuff is kinda sad. And out of context, it’s pretty much just Kunis looking up at Portman and pretending to go to work. What’s actually more engaging is when Portman does her homework and "flicks the little man in the boat" for a while. Of course, the scene’s truncated when the character realizes her mother’s asleep in a chair on the other side of the room.
That’s pretty creepy as is Aronofsky’s ability to shift reality in and out of focus. And by the final twenty minutes of the film, it’s difficult to figure out what’s actually happening and what’s being created in the Porman character’s mind. Capping it off is a pretty obtuse conclusion, making it a likely choice for at least a few statutes at awards ceremonies.