It’s pretty hard to find a moviegoer out there who hasn’t heard about the deliciously macabre and incredibly riveting (though slightly disturbing) film Black Swan. In the often brutal world of ballet, director Darren Aronofsky has found a perfect setting for his particular type of psychological drama. In Natalie Portman, he has found the perfect combination of exquisite frailness, intense dedication, and extraordinary talent necessary to make his leading lady ballerina, Nina Sayers so immensely alluring, yet frighteningly unstable. Portman is a force to be reckoned with; one only needs to see her dance sequences towards the gasp-inducing climax to see how she tackles the physical and psychological demands of the character with ease. I was blown away.
Now I should make an admission: I used to loathe Natalie Portman.
After seeing the first of the Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace, I thought she was commanding onscreen, yet still approachable. She handled it well. Then came the atrocious second Star Wars prequel, Attack of the Clones, where Natalie was given silly dialogue and forced to act opposite the block of wood that IS Hayden Christensen. By the end of the third Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith, I found myself completely disenchanted with her altogether. I wanted to like her, I really did, but I just couldn’t. She let sentences trail off in her voice, her emotions seemed over-exaggerated, and her delivery was choppy. I should have blamed George Lucas’ scripts and direction, but what geek would go against one of the gods of modern-day sci-fi?
A couple years later, I saw a small independent film from France called Paris Je T’aime, and Natalie had a part in one of the shorts. It was intriguing. I wanted to like her, but all I kept seeing and hearing was the Star Wars prequels.
I never had anything against her personally, I just couldn’t get into her acting. As a person, I found her well-spoken, well-educated (she went to Harvard!), incredibly smart, and extremely fashion-savvy. She seemed down-to-earth. It was just her acting that bothered me. I couldn’t get past Star Wars. It seemed everyone else had moved on, but I just hadn’t.
When I saw V for Vendetta, something changed. The film had a very good script, great directors, bleak cinematography, and a solid cast. I watched Natalie closely, hoping to find yet another reason not to like her, but the only thing I found was how much I envied her for being able to shave her head, wear a burlap sack, and still look extraordinarily beautiful. Her acting was good. I had no reason anymore to not like her, but something inside of me STILL wouldn’t let Star Wars go. I couldn’t admit to myself I liked her acting. I mean, she was even nominated for an Academy Award for Closer, but I still couldn’t let Star Wars go.
Then about a year ago, I started reading about this little ballet film Darren Aronofsky was making about rival ballerinas. As a ballet enthusiast and dancer myself, I was immediately curious. Aronofsky said it would be a companion piece to his Oscar-nominated film, the Wrestler, but more psychologically intense. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis had been cast. I instantly thought of Star Wars, but ballet has a hold on me stronger than George Lucas, so I knew that no matter what, I would be seeing this film. The more I read about Black Swan in the months leading up to its release (its phenomenal critical reaction at film festivals, the trailer, the YouTube clips), the more I became obsessed. I knew THIS would finally be the film to break my Star Wars Acting Curse. So when I finally saw Black Swan, I went into the theatre hoping and praying Natalie would once and for all make me like her.
Not only did I like her, but I fell in love. So powerful was her presence, so nuanced was her acting. It was thrilling to watch. Gone went the last bits of Star Wars from my brain. Here FINALLY, I found Natalie Portman a force to be reckoned with onscreen. I couldn’t get enough of her descent into madness. It was brilliant.
So Natalie, I sincerely apologize for wrongly judging you based solely on your work in the Star Wars prequels. I forgive you for those awful scenes; it wasn’t you, it was George Lucas’ script and direction. I now know that you did the best you could with what you had. It wasn’t your fault.
So go get ’em at the Oscars. And to quote Senator Palpatine from the Phantom Menace, I’ll “be watching your career with great interest.”