This winter saw the release of the highly anticipated psycho-sexual thriller Black Swan. Director Darren Aronofsky employs the steep talents of Natalie Portman and Vincent Cassel while introducing the world to Mila Kunis in a role unlike any she’s played before. Captured is the unbridled emotion—passion, despair, and ambition—that consumes the life of ballet dancer Nina Sayers (Portman) as she strives for utter perfection in Thomas Leroy (Cassel)’s adaptation of “Swan Lake”. Along the way her life becomes unhinged with the meeting of fellow dancer Lily (Kunis), coupled with the confusing loss of herself as she takes on the characteristics of the Black Swan Queen.
The film is a beautifully composed tale of a young woman’s struggle to challenge the consistency of her life and find that in letting go she can achieve the greatness she so desires. Portman’s portrayal of such a fragile and eager young dancer is effortless for her but it can only be said that her overall performance is flawless. The confusing and somewhat suspenseful series of events that transpire during her transformation to the dark twin of herself leave the viewer deeply entranced and questioning nearly everything that appears on the screen before them. Kunis is a delight onscreen and continually makes the audience fall in love with her character without diminishing Portman’s gut-wrenching and soul-twisting performance in any way. The scenes continuously build and intensify throughout the film and discard any opportunity for a boring a lull in between. Aronofsky makes sure there are constantly arising question in the viewer’s mind to remind us of what the movie is really about. The fast-paced club scene in which Nina begins to slightly lose herself to the overpowering beats of Dubstep and narcotics displays a quick flash of what Nina is to become; a brief glimpse of the Black Swan. This attention to detail and subtlety is what makes the movie so amazing to watch.
Though deep and dark, Black Swan allows us several gentle moments of humor, usually in simple dialogue between characters or amusing off-hand comments, cutting the heaviness slightly but never distracting from its absolute genius. It is also flecked with a few exceptionally cringe-worthy scenes that can only emit a gasp of discomfort from audience members, in a sense telling us that beyond the finished product or end result of what we see, not everything about the world of dance is beautiful. It conveys to viewers that in fact, a lot of this art is ugliness and pain translated into beauty.
Nina Sayers is a hard-working ballerina tightly bound by her obsession with perfection. She is strict with herself in every way including diet, and has been babied by her mother for so long she knows nothing else. Gentle and meek, Nina approaches dance with a child-like fascination and eagerness to become the very best. Along the way to the fame she has so longed for she becomes paranoid and fears losing what she has worked so hard for. She grows susceptible to the influences of those around her, as a child would. As she begins to let go of the constraints placed on her by her mother and herself, she empowers herself and morphs into exactly what she needs to become to achieve her dream.
Cassel’s character Thomas Leroy is the confident, sexy, and unabashed company director of the “Swan Lake” production. He comes off as almost sexist but it is all part of his craft. He frequently offers words of wisdom to Nina in hopes of aiding her find herself and become the dancer she craves to be. Charming yet seemingly dangerous, his power to make or break a career captivates the young women of his dance company. He pushes them – and particularly Nina – harshly to create the masterpiece of his ingenious reimagining of the tale of the “Swan Lake”.
Lily, the darker, looser, lovely foil to Nina played by Mila Kunis is a free-spirited lover of life. The connection she has to Nina and what Nina lacks is gently played on in how she dresses and wears her hair, polar opposite of Nina. Her dance is free-flowing and carefree, filled with joy and mistakes. Her sex appeal is plainly present and she speaks whatever is on her mind. As she tries to help Nina to loosen up, live, and breathe, Nina becomes suspicious of her motives and paranoid of her talent and charm.
Overall, Black Swan is an amazing film, perfectly done and meeting every expectation made of it. The beauty of the choreography done by Benjamin Millepied paired with the eerie, hauntingly tragic yet beautiful score by Clint Mansell is simply exquisite. Portman gives an Oscar-worthy performance and the supporting characters are nothing short of superb. This film is a must-see and a must-see again if you already have.