Already considered a shoo-in for the Oscars, Darren Aronfsky’s thriller is the critics’ favorite movie this winter. So it was with high expectations that I entered the theater. Two hours later I walked away impressed and entertained but definitely not swept away.
Black Swan is what it promises to be – a dark psychological thriller. Set in the highly competitive scene of the New York ballet scene, the story is about a young and ambitious company dancer – Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman). Though she is not the principal dancer, she is clearly one of the best, and is hoping to land the leading role in the upcoming season’s rendition of “Swan Lake”. Her audition is far from perfect, but she does manage to land the role. This is really the starting point of the movie – this is where all the madness begins.
Nina is definitely not psychologically ready to be the principal dancer – too much pressure and too much competition. Early in the movie, we see hints of paranoia and delusion in Nina’s mind – but we are not really sure what is happening. Nina feels especially threatened by a new arrival to the company, Rebecca (Mila Kunis) towards which she clearly has some unexplained attraction. As Nina struggles to keep up with the demands of her role, an exploitative director, and a smothering relationship with her mother she starts to come apart at the seams. There are some remarkably chilling scenes as we go deeper in Nina’s delusion and the climax is truly dark.
Aronfsky introduces us to the harsh realities of the world of ballet – intense competition, limited shelf life of the artist, the pain-staking regime, the diet instructions, and exploitative directors. Though interesting, that is where in lies the only flaw of the movie – everything is so clichéd from the director who uses the ballerina’s ambition to exploit her, to petty squabbling between the dancers, to Nina’s wide eyed ambition, that it sometimes seems a tad unbelievable.
The camera work is wonderful – the hand held shooting format of the movie brings a level of grittiness in what could otherwise be a glossy world of ballet. The choreography is believable and it is clear that all the actors have put in a lot of effort to be these characters.
Black Swan is clearly Natalie Portman’s movie. From the very first scene, you sense her repressive environment – a small cluttered apartment that she shares with her loving yet over protective mother, lack of friends, competitive work environment. Natalie is the “White Swan” in Nina with her pale clothes, childlike innocence, her gentle voice and her inherent shyness. It is clear to see why it is so difficult for Nina to become the Black Swan….and as she tries to be that perfect performer pushing against her true self. Natalie’s scenes of brilliance are when she tries to break outside Nina’s boundaries and lets the craziness show.
Mila Kunis as Rebecca is in a way Nina’s nemesis – her anti-protagonist in every way. The rule breaker, the seductress …she is so easy going that she hardly believable as a ballerina. Mila is however really good in creating this character who is a confidante in one scene, a lover in another and a rival in the next. Like Nina, you do not know what to make of her.
Vincent Cassel as the director Thomas Leroy is no doubt an actor, but his character is really one dimensional and quite clichéd
And I did not get the point of Beth McIntyre (Wynona Ryder) – does she represent perfection that Nina so aspires? Is her fate the fate of any perfectionist? I mean really, what is the point
Black Swan is a dark movie with some really gory scenes and some very interesting, yet disturbing characters. You should definitely watch this movie if you are looking for offbeat cinema with a chill but it’s not for entertainment