Black Swan portrays the extreme mental and physical journey of Nina Sayers (Portman) an ambitious but sheltered ballerina who longs to be finally recognised by conquering the lead role in ‘Swan Lake’. This requires her to convey through dance the pure, innocent ‘White Swan’ and the manipulative, sensual ‘Black Swan’. She loses her self control and sanity in the face of an overbearing mother (Hershey), a harsh artistic director (Cassel) and the threat of a new naturally sensual dancer Lily (Kunis) in the run up to her debut performance.
Much global press attention has been paid to Darren Aronofsky’s latest feature since ‘The Wrestler’. Even more when information surfaced that the two projects were intended as one body of work about high and low culture focusing on the physical use of the body and the impact mentally when abused by each central character.
“I’ve always considered the two films companion pieces. They are really connected and people will see the connections. It’s funny, because wrestling some consider the lowest art — if they would even call it art — and ballet some people consider the highest art. But what was amazing to me was how similar the performers in both of these worlds are. They both make incredible use of their bodies to express themselves.”
With Natalie Portman winning a Golden Globe for her role and appearing a strong contender in the race to the Oscars and Baftas, the buzz both good and bad continues to entice potential audiences.
The tense, awkward relationship between Nina (Portman) and her mother Erica (Hershey) is unexplored but the short moments it is given are extremely distressing, troubling and climatic towards the end of the film. Subtly suggesting it may be the driving force for the entire narrative, not the looming opening of the Ballet Company’s production of Swan Lake.
The gradual decline of Nina’s mental stability seems to take shape when she is given the ‘Swan Queen’ role. However cracks can be seen earlier. The rash which appears, we later learn is familiar, the biting of Thomas’s lip and the pointless stealing of Beth’s things suggest she may have already been on the road to self destruction or discovery. The dark doppelganger, mirror apprehensions, skin mutilation and even werewolf like metamorphosis are however also effective as visceral horror tactics to cinematically portray her decent into madness. Having said that at times Portman shrieks and flutters unnecessarily, not to her fault perhaps to the horror pace at points of the script.
Beth (Ryder) and Lily (Kunis) are also intriguing female roles left a little superficial in order to drive Nina’s journey. Beth struggles with the downward direction of her career after poor sales and age. She could have been used to explore a truely ugly superficial nature to the Ballet company as Thomas (Cassel) looks for a new young star to heighten ticket sales. Lily initially seems sly and career stealing. In fact she is probably the only female character uninterested by the intense atmosphere of dance studios. It is her that encourages Nina to relax and create a life outside of it. It is her that awaits her success and applauds her performance.
The use of severe hand held camera is almost constant throughout the film. Feeling as though you the viewer are a stalker creeping up behind Nina in every shot or walking backwards in front of her nearly about to bump into a wall. Not to produce a documentary feel or unlikely counter-act the male gaze, more to heighten claustrophobia and perhaps view her from the dark doppelganger point of view waiting for her moment. As the film progresses it becomes almost overwhelming. The ‘score’ is heavy and intoxicating, constantly reminding us we are watching a psychological thriller/drama, with no attempt to be lucid. Connecting scenes through whimsical childlike paranoid themes in the beginning and ending in deep haunting notes. Black Swan definitely lingers with you long after first glance enjoyed or not, which is usually the sign of strong film. Whether Aronofsky and writers Heyman, Heinz and Mclaughlin are successful is open to interpretation but they have to be applauded for at least attempting to show the several faces and shades of a female and her psyche.
Von Von Lamunu