Directed by Darren Aronofsky (2010)
jusco’s Rating: ★★★★
I knew I was in for a psychological thriller. What I didn’t realise was how dark and terrifying Black Swan would be. Yet it is in this dark tale of an obsessive ballerina where the beautiful Natalie Portman delivers, undoubtedly, her greatest and most captivating, powerful performance. It was impossible to take my eyes off her. She plays Nina, a hardworking ballerina who joyfully lands the role of the Swan Queen in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. She is brilliant as the White Swan, but she has difficulty letting go of her perfectionism in order to effectively play the Black Swan, the evil and sensual side of the main role. Frustrated with herself, things get more heated when a new girl comes in. Lily, played by the also gorgeous Mila Kunis, is naturally talented and fits the Black Swan character. Fearful of losing the part, Nina is overwhelmed with pressure, stress and unyielding anxiety. She begins to see, hear and feel things that aren’t there… or are they?
Portman supposedly lost 20 pounds and spent months training for the role. You can see the results of her dedication as the majority of the dancing you see on the screen is herself. Portman has the ability to conquer the role and transform it into something original; here she both seduces and horrifies. I have never been so riveted by ballet before, but it is a beautiful art and she easily draws the audience in with her graceful movements. Yet her obsessive disorder gets the better of her and to our horror, she begins ‘hallucinating’. You cringe. Peeling skin off her fingers and pulling black thorny feathers from her back; Aronofsky plays with our minds and straddles the line between reality and surrealism. It is a scary film in a scary world; the ridiculous pressure to be perfect in the performing arts and the mental breakdown of Nina. Like Portman, the alarming and unfolding events petrify us, but despite being terror-stricken she desires to push on. As the audience, we are entirely unfair to Nina for we cannot wait to see what eventually occurs, despite fully knowing Nina will suffer an unspeakable fate.
Mila Kunis gets less screen time than I expected but she is a highly capable actress (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and this role was particularly fitting. She also proved to be desirable comic relief in the midst of much tension and chills, a smart move by the director. It’s amazing how much music can influence the mood; Swan Lake, at times light and happy, at times miserable and unbearably frightful, is just an example of the genius of Tchaikovsky.
This film is not a feel-good film. You’re not supposed to leave the cinema filled with warm, fuzzy feelings. I left it feeling shocked and unstable, mixed feelings aplenty. What did I just watch? Wait, what happened? Let me think it through… a couple days later I’m still reeling from the initial impact. But its that type of film, it will leave you loving it or hating it. I can’t say I loved it, but it is a masterpiece from the mind of Darren Aronofsky regardless (you honestly can’t expect anything less from the creator of Pi and Requiem for a Dream). It showcases every bit of Portman’s genius and her performance, which unquestionably deserves the Oscar, is one to remember. If you watch this film, I suggest you don’t dwell too deeply on the practical turn of events as it is a waste of time attempting to figure out what happened in reality. What we see and lament is a tragedy in its finest form, where a fierce battle for one’s self, for one’s insanity, against the pressure to be perfect whether it is from society or from one’s own parents. We can only observe in agony and hope for the best despite knowing it will never come.