There are a few films that can make us squirm in our chairs, laugh nervously, provoke thought, fill our hearts with sadness, and ‘wow’ us all at the same time, yet Darren Aronofsky’s latest, Black Swan, manages to invoke those emotions in his audience and more. Visually and mentally stimulating and shocking, this dramatic and chaotic thriller tells a complex story of a young ballerina getting in touch with another side of her—a side of her that dangerously threatens to consume her.
Natalie Portman stars in the awards-buzzworthy role as Nina Sayers, a ballet dancer with a New York City company. The company puts on a production of Swan Lake, in which Nina wins the role of the Swan Queen. However, while her purity, grace, and elegance makes her the perfect fit for the White Swan, she must also learn how to portray the evil half, the Black Swan. Faced with pressure by her stage mother (Barbara Hershey), the company’s artistic director (Vincent Cassel), and competition in the form of the naturally seductive Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina becomes obsessed with finding the Black Swan within her so she can perform as both halves effortlessly. However, in a case of art becoming real life (Or a delusion thereof), she becomes so obsessed that she begins seeing and feeling things that are not there, and her struggle to become the consummate performer and artist becomes deadly. Winona Ryder co-stars as a fallen dancer from the company.
Succumbing to pressure may be a cliche story for any film, but the nightmarish and hallucinogenic way Nina’s struggle is depicted is what makes Black Swan different and spectacular. In a way, it’s like an artsy horror film, with blood and gore, but not present for the sake of just being there, but rather to showcase a slow, horrifying transformation of the self and the severity of feeling under pressure beyond control. Same goes for the much talked-about sex scenes—true, they’re pretty intense, but it’s all integral to the story of Nina’s darker half eclipsing over her. In sum, there’s a much deeper meaning to all the shock factor.
But side-by-side with the stunning cinematography and startling and darkly delicious visuals to tell the story is Portman’s top-notch performance that makes Black Swan the masterpiece it is. It’s amazing that she had to undergo strenuous training to get the dancing down and practically be a ballerina when she wasn’t (She reportedly lost 20 pounds prior to filming in order to look more like the part). But much, much more admirable is the fact that she practically had to play dual roles—that of nice, “normal” Nina and that of an evil otherness—and that she really makes them both outstanding. She makes Nina a character to sympathize with all throughout the film, even as her darker side slowly eats her up and her methods of seeking perfection are a little extreme, because all she wants is to feel better about herself when others make her feel inferior. If this film isn’t perfect (And to me, some of the pacing didn’t make it that way), her heartbreaking portrayal of this tragic character certainly is. Her final scenes in the film are especially truly unforgettable.
Storytelling at its most creative, disturbing, and fantastical, Black Swan is a must-see movie about the perils of one’s passion and self. Though very exaggerated (And lovely at that) for the sake of cinema, the pains and struggles of our main character are very real. If there really is that dark bird in all of us, better not let it fly away.
OVERALL SCORE: 9.5/10