After taking The Venice Film Festival by storm earlier this year (where we first reviewed it) Darren Aronofsky‘s highly anticipated masterpiece, Black Swan, is poised to dominate awards season. The psychological thriller set in the seemingly elegant world of the New York City Ballet stars an Oscar hungry Natalie Portman in a career defining performance. The film also stars Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel and opens nationwide this Friday.
Check out the review below…
- Director: Darren Aronofsky
- Writers: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin
- Producers: Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Brian Oliver
- Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder
Black Swan follows Nina (Portman), a featured ballerina at the New York City Ballet, whose life is utterly consumed with dance. When the company’s artistic director, Leroy (Cassel), announces that he’ll be replacing prima ballerina Beth Macintyre (Ryder) for their production of Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. However, Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan (with innocence) and the Black Swan (with cunning and sensuality). Nina fits the White Swan perfectly, but newly signed dancer Lily (Kunis) is more suited for the Black Swan. A rivalry commences and Nina, desperate to keep her spot, recklessly checks in with her dark side.
- Reality: Ballet is perceived by most as a graceful activity for delicate, feminine creatures hungry to prance around in pink. Aronofsky takes the liberty of shaking those girlish delusions. Black Swan exposes the world of ballet in an unmercifully honest and realistic light: a world of battered self-image, incessant self-deprecation, and unrelenting criticism from directors and fellow company members. Words like “chorus” and “ensemble” that generally indicate a collaborative environment couldn’t be more misleading. These girls are trading high-fives for sinister smiles of artificial support. Two words: cut throat.
- Nina/Portman: Nina is introduced as your quintessential obsessive-compulsive ballerina. Her every mood is contingent on her daily performance and her self-worth is measured solely by her director’s evaluation of her work. While most of her peers struggle with the same set of standards, Nina, too unstable to weather the pressure, develops severe paranoia, anxiety, delusions, etc. Her psychosis evolves on a perfectly paced incline that really affords the audience an unusually intimate passenger seat on her dark journey. The character itself is beautifully written and Ms. Portman’s aptitude for tackling emotional depth makes her an excellent fit. There’s no doubt that she’ll receive a nomination this February.
- Aronofsky: The man rarely fails to please. Aronofsky spent nearly a decade developing this deeply complex story, and his directorial maneuvers are just as eerie and intense as the story itself. His aesthetic choices, in particular, are exceptional.
- Thriller: The story is set in an unlikely venue for a thriller. The juxtaposition of what ballet represents to the outside world and the disturbed reality of Nina’s condition makes for a seriously intriguing situation.
- Swan Lake: There are multiple themes in Black Swan, the most notable one being the battle of innocence and evil – aka, the theme of “Swan Lake.” Nina grows to mentally inhabit the role she’s playing – the conflicts in “Swan Lake” become her own. By the end of the film the boundaries of reality vs. “play” are totally skewed for both Nina and the audience.
- Dramatic: Despite that fact that Nina’s condition is clearly a dramatic one, there are moments that arguably appear overly dramatized. I’d like to think the sheer excellence of the picture on the whole overshadows this, though the audience in my screening had mixed reactions. Half of the room was laughing hysterically because the sequences seemed so outrageous and the other half was shaking with discomfort because they seemed so intense. You decide.
I’m clearly a supporter of this film. Thanks to the fair share of both commercial and indie appeal the film should garner solid numbers at the box office. Go see it.
Black Swan hits theaters December 3rd!