Black Swan (2010)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder
Plot: A ballet dancer wins the lead in "Swan Lake" and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan - Princess Odette - but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile the Black Swan, daughter of an evil magician.
Genre: Drama / Romance / Thriller
Awards: Won 1 Oscar - Best Leading Actress. Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing.
Rating: R21/M18 (cut) for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
If Stanley Kubrick ever made a film about a ballerina obsessed with perfection, and as a result, she suffers physically and psychologically, that film would probably look like Black Swan. But having said that, Black Swan is very much Darren Aronofsky’s own work, a film that is so intoxicatingly beautiful and such an immersive, and I dare say, hallucinatory cinematic experience that it is difficult to leave the theater with all your sanity intact.
A cross between Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948) and Kubrick’s very own The Shining (1980), Black Swan is a psychological horror-drama that will leave viewers floored. Natalie Portman plays Nina in perhaps her most demanding lead role to date. She rises up to the task in a tremendous performance of grace and vulnerability.
Nina is a ballerina seeking for a chance to succeed. She gets the part of Swan Queen in a new-age reworking of Swan Lake. She plays the White Swan with utmost elegance. But it is the role of Black Swan that troubles her. Her ballet coach Thomas (Vincent Cassel) tells Nina to let herself go, to feel her own body, and to surrender herself to the darkness of that role.
Sexually repressed and living with an overbearing (and possibly) incestuous mother, Nina is haunted by the increasing frequency of dark thoughts. The arrival of Lily (Mila Kunis), her alternate to play Swan Queen, threatens her mental well-being. After all, Lily is everything Nina is not; the former eases into the role of Black Swan effortlessly too.
It is very easy to sympathize with Nina, who is externally pressured by her mother, Thomas and Lily, and internally tormented by psychological insecurities, but Aronofsky’s wildly imaginative and occasionally detached directing style allow ample room for viewers to be engaged intellectually as well.
Like Nolan’s Inception (2010), and Scorsese’s Shutter Island (2010) before that, Black Swan is a trip down the deepest recesses of a character’s mind, except this is a near psychedelic one. With scenes of look-away violence, non-arousing lesbian intimacy, and fantastical horror imagery, Aronofsky does not pull back on the punches as he conceives a visceral film of such frightening power that it hits viewers straight in the gut. There are moments that would make even the most seasoned horror fan jump in fear.
Black Swan also features an astonishing score by the underrated Clint Mansell, who rearranges Tchaikovsky’s music and fuses it together with his own, providing the film with a unique sound design that aptly accompanies Nina’s descent to madness.
The unpredictable nature of the film, and the nightmarish approach to what is essentially a simple story about a woman losing her mind not only make this one of the most special film experiences of the year, but also secure Aronofsky’s position as arguably the most formidable American filmmaker working today.
GRADE: A (9/10 or 4.5 stars)