Like many great films, Black Swan uses something basic—something simple enough for the audience to grasp, to explore its characters in an interesting way. It uses this basic concept or idea as a backdrop, not focusing on it, and instead giving us a deep look at its characters. In Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan, this basic idea is the ballet, and more specifically, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
Chosen to play the lead role in the play is Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a woman far more obsessed with her career than anything else in life. She has to fight just to get the role, as the director of the ballet (Vincent Cassel) feels that she doesn’t perform well as the Black Swan. This role requires freedom of body, something Nina doesn’t have. She fits the role of the White Swan perfectly, having near-perfect technique. She practices whenever she has free time, always pushing herself harder and harder.
She has taken over the role from Beth (Winona Ryder), who is retiring shortly. There is also a new dancer arriving. Her name is Lily (Mila Kunis). Nina soon becomes paranoid that Lily is there only to steal her part in the ballet. Lily seems friendly enough, but Nina doesn’t trust her. At least, she doesn’t right away.
Nina has issues herself; paranoia is seemingly the last of her worries. She wakes up one morning with a rash, one that gets worse as the film progresses. She also suffers from hallucinations, or maybe they aren’t actually hallucinations. We can’t be sure, and neither can she.
Unfortunately, the psychological issues that Nina faces and has to overcome are actually the worst parts of Black Swan. The relationships between Nina and her mother (Barbara Hershey), Lily, and the ballet director are actually far more fascinating than any problems Nina has. Sure, the things going wrong in her head and with her body end up making these relationships more exciting, but when the film focuses solely on these obstacles, it gets less engaging.
As I said, the relationships are the most entertaining parts of Black Swan, and this is likely due to the mystery surrounding the supporting cast. Nina is a character we get to know quite well, and we can sympathize with her. This is good, but when you combine this with the fact that you don’t know the other characters much, if at all, the contrast between them makes their relationships the most entertaining part of the film.
Black Swan is a stunning film that will amaze and affect you both during and after you watch it.
Nina’s mother is overbearing and overprotective. She treats Nina like she is 12 years old. (Nina actually mentions this at one point in the film). Nina’s mother used to be a dancer, but for reasons we never find out, she gave up on that dream. She is now devoted to Nina’s career, viewing it as she wanted to view her own. This brings into question if Nina was forced into ballet, of if it was her own choice. Is Nina as dedicated as she is to please herself, or to please her mother?
Lily is kept the most mysterious, and she works in direct contrast to Nina. If this was Swan Lake, Nina would be the White Swan, and Lily would be the Black Swan. Nina’s pure, Lily isn’t. Lily loosens up easily, Nina’s uptight. Surprisingly, opposites don’t really attract in this relationship, and the two, despite Lily’s best effort, don’t gel well.
If there is one thing that can be said about Black Swan, it’s that the acting is great. Natalie Portman does an amazing job in her self-determined role. Reportedly training for more than six months, both Portman and Kunis are great. They both seem to be good dancers, and we already know that both can act. Their roles are demanding, and you can tell the dedication that both actresses had to their roles.
Also requiring mention is the musical score composed by Clint Mansell. Mansell altered Tchaikovsky’s original music into something more twisted and fitting to the nature of the film. The soundtrack brings more depth to the feature and enhances the emotions that are felt within it. It isn’t distracting, but it is noticeable. This ends up working fine though, as the soundtrack itself stirs emotions, and ends up setting the tone of the film.
Black Swan functions well as a companion to Aronofsky’s 2008 film The Wrestler. Both films are about one person so dedicated to their art that they are willing to sacrifice everything else in their life. The leads in both films wish to become perfect in their field. The cost of this is an imperfect rest of their life. Both films are similar in theme, with the only real difference being the fantasy aspect of Black Swan.
Black Swan is a film that deserves a viewing. The contrast between Nina, a character who is pure at heart, and the rest of the cast is striking, and the relationship between each of the characters is intriguing and entertaining. The issues Nina has to cope with are actually one of the least interesting parts of the film, yet still serve an important purpose. The performances are amazing, the soundtrack is nice to listen to and the film is emotionally engaging. All in all, it’s a stunning film that will amaze and affect you both during and after you watch it.
Conclusion: Black Swan is a fantastic and warped drama/thriller.
Recommendation: Watch Black Swan.