Black Swan is a spellbinding descent into madness and a haunting look at the pressures of obsession and being an entertainer.
Darren Aronofsky delivers again with this year’s Oscar-worthy Black Swan. The eccentric director takes us on a suspenseful and edgy thrill ride as we take a look into the life of an entertainer and the pressures of the business as she struggles to maintain herself while being lost in the role. Natalie Portman’s eerie performance pulls you in and never lets you go, as this dark thriller brings you face-to-face with obsession and madness.
Black Swan tells the story of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a seasoned ballet dancer for a New York ballet company. Still living with her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), the two have a creepy relationship. Erica, a former ballerina herself, exhibits a smothering control over Nina and plays the “stage mother” type as ballet consumes Nina’s life and her mother is right there to push her along the whole time, pressuring Nina. Nina seems to be a sheltered girl who appears unhealthily attached to her mom; and her mom to her. Even Nina’s room is haunting in its own sense, cluttered with girlie things and stuffed animals like some 6 year-old girl. And this is much the way Erica treats her, coming in to tuck her in and kiss her goodnight each night before putting on the music box for Nina to sleep.
Nina’s life takes a big turn one day when the director of the ballet company decides to start anew for the next season of their production of ‘Swan Lake’. Looking for a new lead, the director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) has the girls competing; the opportunity consuming Nina’s life. Nina, much to her surprise, ends up landing the role and becomes the new lead. However, Leroy’s new vision of Swan Lake asks for the lead to play the role of both White Swan and Black Swan. While Nina is perfect for the role of the White Swan, her innocent and timid nature is not so fitting for the Black Swan. Enter Lily (Mila Kunis). Lily becomes Nina’s understudy as Leroy takes a liking to her as well. Nina is perfect for the pure and pristine White Swan. However, Lily completely embodies the dark and sensual Black Swan. This sends the two girls into a competition with one another. As their rivalry transforms into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to attempt to get in touch with her dark side. She seeks to find the Black Swan in herself wanting to be perfect for the production and to avoid being replaced by Lily.
As Nina seeks to find that darker and more sensual side of herself, Thomas Leroy continues to tell her that she must let go in order to encompass both swans. This is a hard feat for the innocent, timid and inhibited Nina, but slowly, with the help of Lily, she begins to realize that side of her own self. And let go she does. She soon finds herself dancing on the edge as she descends into madness. Struggling to hold on to herself and her career, Nina loses herself. We begin to question what’s even real anymore as her life is consumed by this obsession and disturbing events begin to fill her life.
Watching Natalie Portman allow herself to be completely consumed by this role is a thing of beauty really. Her range in this film alone provides great merit to her acting ability. Watching that young, sweet, innocent girl transform into a dark beast of obsession and becoming lost in a world of dementia and madness is quite the feat to behold. This transformation from one extreme to the other is done with such precision and is so convincing you can’t help but be intrigued the whole while. Such a nuanced and edgy performance, Portman should be a shoe-in for Best Actress come Oscar time. In fact, after seeing her performance, if she doesn’t win that award, I may lose faith in the Academy. Yes, it was that good. Much like Bale’s performance should be an automatic Best Supporting Actor win.
One of the more riveting aspects of the movie is watching Aronofsky illustrate the idea of life imitating art. As you watch Nina’s descent into madness, you begin to notice how her life begins to parallel the very story which she’s expected to tell on the stage. The White Swan, the epitome of purity and innocence, is slowly destroyed and devoured by its “twin” the Black Swan. Likewise, we watch as Nina’s dark side begins to take her over, destroying that once innocent girl in the process. The obsession completely consuming her.
Watching Black Swan I can’t help but be reminded of Heath Ledger. Almost 3 years ago now, Ledger died. This wasn’t long after wrapping up on his role of The Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight. While the role was not a cause of his death, it was talked about by others around him how it was hard for him to completely shake that role. His total immersion into the Joker role and that dive into the dark abyss stuck with him, in a manner, even beyond the set. This wouldn’t be the first time you’ll ever hear of a method actor that becomes so immersed in a role, that it sticks with them and changes them. That it takes time to shake it, and over the course of that role, the character changes who they are as a person. I think Aronofsky’s Black Swan gives an excellent insight into these ‘dangers’ of actors and entertainers that give themselves over to a role so completely. And the pressures of being “perfect” for their role as they live for their art. Much like these method actors, Nina’s obsession with “perfection” in her role consumes who she is as a person beyond the stage.
Black Swan is a tale of how obsession can destroy us. It’s a look at how that for which we long too deeply can be that which becomes our downfall. The movie is an eerie look at how we can lose our true selves in that obsession. How innocence can be devoured by greed; and how, in the darkest corners of our psyche, even the most beautiful spirit can harbor an unbearable ugliness. It’s a haunting tale of how the pressure of being perfect can break us.
Such a harrowing tale, Black Swan is absolutely a beauty to behold and a very riveting thrill ride that is definitely one of the best films of the year. From the excellent cinematography to the great score put together by Clint Mansell to the writing from Heinz/Heyman/McLaughlin, Black Swan clicks on all cylinders. Darren Aronofsky delivers a must-see, dark and haunting thriller that shows why he is considered one of the greats of our generation.
Filed Under: Reviews