Everyone has heard of ballet, some perhaps just that, while others practice it or just enjoy watching it on stage. Most people have also heard of Swan Lake, maybe even saw it performed in one or another adaptation, as there are many. Then there is Black Swan directed by Darren Aronofski, which leaves most other adaptations in the shade.
Darren Aronofski is a most certainly an ingenious director; he’s proven that with Black Swan, as well as with his previous films which, according to Ryan Fleming, “can justifiably be classified as being disturbingly brilliant, or brilliantly disturbed depending on your point of view, and Black Swan is no different.
” Darren Aronofski’s Black Swan is a psychological thriller; the main storyline revolves around Nina Sayers, portrayed by Natalie Portman. Nina is a ballet dancer in the New York City ballet company.
Nina’s devoted her entire life to ballet, she does not care about relationships with other people as long as she can dance; she desires to be perfect in every possible way.
Both her devotion to ballet and the longing for perfection are fuelled by her mother Erica, a former ballet dancer of moderate success. However, despite Nina’s self-imposed isolation from the rest of the dancers, she sees a rival in Lily (Mila Kunis) when it is announced the role of the Swan Queen has emptied. Much to Nina’s surprise, the role becomes hers.
But there is a catch – the director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), wants one dancer to play the characters of both the White Swan and the Black Swan, two opposites. In spite Nina’s excellent skills and performance, Thomas fears she is not entirely fit to play the role of the Black Swan, and thus he imposes his own methods to make Nina’s true self emerge. Nina is not aware of that, and when combined with her desire for perfection, it causes her psyche to fluctuate; she even begins to hallucinate, In the end, Nina achieves the so much desired perfection, but for a heavy price.
Portman’s portrayal of the character Nina is, without a doubt, one of her best performances ever and truly breathtaking. The character is immensely expressive and she pushes everything from one scene to the other, from one point to the other, all the way up to the end. The film more or less follows the traditional dramatic triangle: the slow escalation and the build-up of the tempo towards the climactic resolve.
Nina’s fluctuating personality ollows that path, and she drives everything with it; somewhere along the escalating way, her psyche splits and manifests itself in a surprising manner. It is difficult to draw a line between the reality and the imaginary, between the truth and the illusion. The story as such, Nina’s psychological development, is greatly supported by both visual and sound effects. The impact the film leaves you with would not be the same without those effects; they add an even more subtle feeling of mental exertion.
Nina’s scratches and body deformations (a result of her fluctuating personality and hallucinations), for example, look as real(istic) as possible. The climactic end could as well resemble an avalanche. The tempo intensifies, it is almost without control; the rapid changes of scenes, colours and sounds, supported by music, leave the audience without much time to think about what is going on. In the climax, Nina becomes the embodiment of the Swan Queen, her winged shadow reflected on the back wall of the stage; and then the Queen falls.
The downfall is Nina’s end after she has fulfilled her desires, wishes and dreams. All in all, if you want to get blown away, then Black Swan is indeed a film you must see. It is magnificent and, as Peter Bradshaw puts it, “ionospherically over the top, and some of its effects are overdone, but it is richly, sensually enjoyable and there is such fascination in seeing Portman surrender to the madness and watch her face transmute into a horror-mask like a nightmare version of Maria Callas. Brace yourselves before you watch it, make sure you are not one of those with a sensible disposition, it might be too much for you then. You will either like or hate Black Swan, the middle path is virtually impossible to take. It is a film you watch once as it shall remain in your head permanently. A true masterpiece worth every single minute.