Black Swan (2010, Fox Searchlight)
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 Odette’s evil sister, Odile, the Black Swan.
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis & Vincent Cassel. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Produced by Scott Franklin, Mike Medavov, Arnold Messer & Brian Oliver. Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz & John McLaughlin.
No one told me this was an intense movie. No one told me it was a psychological thriller. I went into Black Swan blind and spent two hours with my eyes as wide as saucers and don’t think I exhaled until the closing credits.
Against the backdrop of the New York City Ballet Company, Black Swan opens as a behind-the-scenes view of the jealousy, rivalries, blood, sweat and tears in the cutthroat world of a prestigious dance company through the eyes of Natalie Portman’s Nina. While driven by her obsession for technique, Nina is too timid to vie for the attention of self-absorbed company head Thomas Leroy, played by Vincent Cassel. Instead, she feeds her obsession earning little recognition for the broken bones, bloody, splitting toe nails, eating disorders and falling further into paranoia…all under the overbearing wing of her unfulfilled, former dancer/mother played by Barbara Hershey.
The constant push-pull between Nina and her mother ebbs throughout the movie. The seeds of discontent, shame, anger and doubt are planted early and flower immediately, to jaw-dropping ends. Seriously, there were scenes in Black Swan where I was in a horrow-show state of mind, wanting to scream at Nina, “don’t open the door! Don’t open the door!”
As Nina’s world expands in Black Swan, her demons grow, not sure if the new girl Lily is her supportive friend or jealous foe looking to push her aside to claim the lead role of Swan Lake from her. Mila Kunis as Lily is near-perfect casting. She plays the pretty, free-spirited Nina with just enough charm and darkness to keep the audience guessing at her true intentions. And I’m not sure we ever really get the answer. If all this weren’t reason enough to want Portman to win the Oscar for Best Actress, add to it her ability to bring a sense of empathy and vulnerability to Nina. We’re used to psychodramas where the protagonist is evil. Here, Nina’s just severely screwed up and we just want her to find peace within herself and we feel like we live through every exhausting, excruciating moment with her.
If the line between reality and psychosis is blurry from the start of Black Swan, imagine where it is after we’ve watched a tormented soul break down and rebuild over and over. As Nina’s battle with her demons intensifies, the struggle breaks down her personal and professional relationships. Nina’s insecurity, self destruction and obsession cast a long shadow that darkens every person who encounters her. It is a jarring character study that takes you into Nina’s darkest fears and forces you to sift through the wreckage and make sense of it all. (Note: I’m still trying to make sense of it all.)
Director Darren Aronovsky, whose previous outing was The Wrestler, has proven his ability again at creating a dark, lonely, flawed character in a dark, lonely flawed surrounding and makes you less a spectator and more a participant. The cutthroat world of prestigious ballet is anything but dainty and pretty and Aronovsky makes certain we see every bit of it. The Black Swan is an intense, dark ride into a tortured soul. Have fun.
**** stars (out of 5).