When I first heard about Darren Aronofsky’s new film, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Some sites were billing it as a Science Fiction film, which it really isn’t. I mean, if I were to say there’s a new Science Fiction film starring Natalie Portman where she plays a ballerina, you start thinking “Oh no, it’s 2001: A Space Odyssey all over again!” (Which was essentially a ballet in space.) In all actuality, Black Swan is a thriller, just so you are prepared.
To sum up the story, Natalie Portman plays a studying ballet dancer, Nina, who embodies the devoted artist – constantly in pursuit of perfection. The ballet company she performs with is slated to mount the classic show Swan Lake. It has always been her dream to play the Swan Queen, a role which requires the dancer to embody both the innocent, pure white swan and the evil, seductive black swan. Nina is a natural for the part of the white swan, but her innocence and drive for perfection undermine her ability to portray its free-spirited and manipulative alter ego.
In attempting to tap into her darker side, with some “guidance” by the director, Nina becomes drawn to Lily, a new dancer in the company played by Mila Kunis. Lily represents everything Nina is not – she is imperfect, impulsive, and without inhibitions. Their interaction is the catalyst which starts Nina on a path of self discovery and evolution.
This film is difficult to review in the spirit of preserving its intentional uncertainty. The use of sound, camera shots and plot loops was very disorienting but lent to the storyline, leaving the audience just as confused by what was happening to Nina as she was herself. It isn’t really until the end of the movie that you have a fairly clear idea of what exactly was going on.
The story heavily mirrors (pun intended?) the story of Swan Lake as a metaphor for Nina’s life and transformation as a dancer. This imagery is practically beaten over the audience’s head with the use of color coordinated costuming, loads of reflective surfaces, mirrored action between characters, and Nina literally seeing other people turn into evil doppelgangers of herself.
Black Swan is most definitely rated R for disturbing imagery, language, and sexual content. This is a film that will be harder for less-mature audiences to handle, as they will easily be lost in giggling and grossing out over the previously mentioned content. (As was the high school-aged group in the theatre we were in.)
Thankfully, this content is not needlessly gratuitous. I must admit, I had my reservations when some of the loudest buzz over this movie centered around a love scene between Portman and Kunis, but it’s adequately woven into the overall plot flow, and still uses clever photography to avoid any full-on nudity. The disturbing imagery is a little more jarring, so be aware, there will be some moments you cringe, but they effectively lend themselves to the storytelling.
I have to say, the film is artistically well done. I’m very interested to find out what technique(s) they used to create the independent mirror-image effects, as there are some fairly intricate moments where the camera would literally have to be looking at itself in the mirror, but it’s never seen. The storyline is solid, and the discomfort caused throughout the film is intentional and adds to the overall dark ambiance.
I’d recommend this to the over-17 film loving crowd, although I think you’d be fine to wait for it on DVD. The theatrical presentation doesn’t really add to the spectacle. Overall, it’s a solid film, with some excellent performances, specifically Portman’s, and a well-put-together cinematic vision on the part of the director. This will definitely be one to watch for in the upcoming awards season.
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