Do not bother to see this movie. If you want to know why, read on. If not, I don’t blame you. I don’t want to revisit it either.
Darren Aronofsky revitalized his career, along with Mickey Rourke’s, with The Wrestler. This film relies on many of the same themes, mainly an examination of a human’s willingness to hurt themselves in order to achieve an ideal. There is no stronger example of this obsession than in ballet. These dancers endure significant pain, bordering on self-mutilation, in order to be the best at what they do. This film also tries to explore the mental anguish and psychological toll such pursuits cause.
Sounds good, right?
Additionally, the genre of backstage dramas are (usually) fertile soil for intense relationships, obsessions, hidden motives, and false backgrounds.
Sadly, Aronofsky doesn’t draw on this. Instead, he resorts to overly obvious symbology and foreshadowing. It seems as though he is trying to channel The Red Shoes, but there is none of the soul or depth of that classic. This is partially the fault of a film that is a jack of all trades. It cannot decide what it is, and therefore never truly achieves, anything. Drama? Horror? Thriller?
Natalie Portman manages to carry the film most of the time, but too be fair, too much is placed on her shoulders. Mila Kunis is her on/off friend, and sometimes foil, who tries to convince her it’s ok to relax once in awhile. She too gives a fairly stable performance, but her role is relatively small. The only actor to be completely consistent is Vincent Cassell, as the artistic director of the ballet company. His ruthlessness and passion as a director was multi-layered and well-tempered.
The gasp of surprise that Aronofsky was looking for was not heard. A sigh, perhaps, but no gasp. The only emotional response to be heard is the self-congratulatory applause at the end of the ballet, which he used as the closing credits soundtrack. Tragically, this was a waste of an interesting film idea.