Met with critical acclaim after it was first released at the 67th Venice International Film Festival in September of 2010, Black Swan has since gone on to gather even more fame and hype. Mostly due to its’ combination of elegant dance and the deep psychological portrayal of a person under pressure to simply be perfect. Natalie Portman headlines a film filled with sex, drugs, emotional & physical stress and just plain paranoia.
Nina (Natalie Portman), an aspiring and paralyzingly-timid ballet dancer, competes and is ultimately chosen to dance the lead role in an upcoming production of the classic Swan Lake. In order to completely pull this role off, she must take on the duties of portraying two characters. The first persona that she must accept is that of the White Swan, a role in which the ballet director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), finds her perfect for. Her desire to be perfect in every move and motion plays directly into what is needed to be a great White Swan. The White Swan’s evil twin, the Black Swan, is slightly more difficult for her to grasp. She isn’t used to dancing with the recklessness and abandon that is encouraged to dance this role.
During her preparation for the roles, including late-night rehearsals and practices, she interacts with another dancer in the production. Lily (Mila Kunis) is nowhere as uptight as Nina can be. She dances with an almost effortless charisma and without the constant need for perfection that Nina commands of herself. As the film goes on and Nina strives to capture the persona that she so desperately needs to become the Black Swan, she finds herself in a battle within her own mind. Between her overbearing mother, not so subtle advances from her ballet director and the feeling that Lily is out to steal her lead role, she begins to tumble into a dark world. A world that will either help her to finally break through the wall preventing her transformation into the Black Swan or completely swallow the world that she already holds dear.
It is quite the understatement to say that this film has garnered some attention. Especially for its lead actress role. Natalie Portman has already been nominated and won several awards for her performance with no doubt only more on the way. Her portrayal of Nina was indeed a complete one. It established exactly what type of person her character was from the beginning.
On the other hand, for me, it got somewhat stale after a while. Yes, she’s shy, quiet and slow to defend herself but her personality is to the extreme of that spectrum. She was painfully apprehensive to do almost anything. Finally perhaps three-quarters into the film, she slightly begins to break out of her faint-hearted capsule, including taking the advice of her director and energetically pleasuring herself while in bed one morning, but after that I was kind of over it.
Mila Kunis was her opposite, a “loose, live life as it comes to you” character who helped to balance the films mood. Obviously, without her, the story would have had to rely strictly on Nina’s troubles as the main antagonist. One of the graphic collisions between these two characters comes in the form of the now infamous lesbian encounter that takes place after a night of drinking and partying. After seeing Vincent Cassel the first time in this film, I was immediately reminded of his role in Oceans 12 & 13. In this movie, he did his job as the strict, sex-seeking boss who you can’t really decide if you like or hate.
The insight that the film takes on showing the audience the preparation and sheer dedication that it takes to gather one’s self to dance the art of ballet was in depth and rather enlightening. For those of us who do not usually follow ballet, it is a lot more than just skin tight outfits and lean bodies. Portman and Kunis spent months preparing for their roles, getting into ballet dancing shape and such to make their parts believable. But it did seem like there were a lot of close-up shots during Portman’s routines that consisted of just her face and then just her legs. I would have liked to see more full body views thus making the audience believe even more so that she was actually pulling off the difficult dance maneuvers herself.
The main concept of the story is the way that Nina begins to lose herself in the darkness that her persona creates as she tries to emulate the Black Swan role. During this journey, many things happen to her at random times that has the audience trying to determine just what was real from what might be going on in her mind.
With some suspenseful but slow parts, weird mind trips and a small role by Winona Ryder (whom I think Portman & Keira Knightley resemble), I felt this movie was a little too hyped for my taste. I appreciate the look into the art of ballet and understand the mounds of pressure that comes along with the need to be perfect but it was lacking in some areas of sheer entertainment to maintain my full attention. I give Black Swan “3.5 dark psychological takes on Swan Lake out of 5”.
“I got a little homework assignment for you. Go home and touch yourself. Live a little.”