Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz
Score: Clint Mansell
Principal cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel and Winona Ryder
Release date: 21st January 2010
An introverted dancer Nina (Portman) secures the role of prima in a new production of Swan Lake whilst being sheltered by her career orientated ex-ballerina mother. To fully embody the dual role of Swan Queen and counterpart Black Swan, Nina is encouraged to explore her dark side by her Director (Cassel).
The arrival of new dancer Lily (Kumis) provides competition and pushes Nina towards breaking point where the lines between real life, paranoia and illusion begin to blur.
Firstly, I know next to nothing about ballet or dance but was attracted to the film’s theme of a dark and grotesque adult fairytale and descent into an individual’s personal hell via a heady blend of The Red Shoes (1948) mixed with the mind bending characteristics of a David Lynch movie.
The film also seems like the female companion piece to Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (2008) with Mickey Rourke’s ring fighter sharing many similarities with Portman’s frigid dancer as both struggle with the demands of their stage persona and real life.
Although some have hinted that the workings and portrayal of the dance world are clichÃ© and even over the top (Cassell’s director being portrayed as a sexual predator and Ryder’s fading starlet has shades of Bette Davis) it is Nina’s descent into a confused nightmare and tragic resurgence which are at the core of the film.
Portman reportedly shed 20lbs to her already slim body frame for the role and her gaunt appearance hints at the fragile and obsessive nature of the Nina character whilst the introduction of the talented Lily (Kumis) acts as a foil and competitive spur for Nina to descend into a spiral of paranoia, confusion and liberation (sex, drugs) that ultimately allow her to capture the nature of the Black Swan.
Afonofsky cleverly plays a parallel between the story of Swan Lake and the events taking place in Nina’s life and successfully blurs the distinction between what is real and fiction by introducing elements of horror. We are left questioning with the central character the reality of events taking place as well as her state of mind (mirrors are used everywhere in the film from bathrooms, dance studios and dressing rooms).
From a layman standpoint the dance sequences look lush, theatrical and colourful with Mansell’s booming score only further enhances the sense of chaos in Nina’s mind.
As an adult fairytale that encompasses everything from dance, psychological horror and backstage drama Black Swan works incredibly well and Aronofsky manages to turn up the suspense factor and sense of craziness as the film progresses to a chaotic finale. The film also allows Portman to play against the grain and at times provide some genuinely shocking and mind bending moments.
Aronofsky provides a well worked and inventive dark fairytale with a stand out performance from Portman. Well crafted and at times twisted Black Swan is recommended.