Black Swan has been called many things. People have tried to put a label on it or shoe-horn it into a genre. Whatever it is one thing is for certain, Aronofksy does something completely different each time at the plate. The film is about Nina, ballet dancer (Natalie Portman) who has landed the part of playing the Swan Queen. Due to the nature of her profession and upbringing, she is near perfect in her form. Perfection being her goal for so long, it seems strange to have to learn how to do something imperfectly. However, the part of the black swan calls for a little looseness in her dancing, which she finds very difficult to execute.
Her dance instructor, Thomas (Vincent Cassel) only adds to the pressure as he constantly berates Nina. Not overly so, but in a creepy ballet instructor sort of way; using seduction and bordering on molestation to motivate and inspire his student. We also see the downfall of Beth (Winona Ryder), the former premiere dancer. We get the impression that she was let go by Thomas and that there was more to their relationship than just teacher/student. Beth is irate, drunk or incapacitated in some other way each time we see her. Nina’s mother (Barbara Hershey) was a former dancer and seems obsessively devoted now to the dancing career of her daughter. She lives through Nina. Needless to say, the stress is unbearable for Nina to withstand.
However, there is also the new transfer to consider. A new dancer, Lily, arrives. Seeing the world through Nina’s stressed and paranoid eyes, Lilly is a rival. Nina over thinks the compliments given to Lilly from Thomas and lets his criticisms of herself weigh her down.
Nina’s character is a parallel to the black swan. In the ballet, the swan is cursed and turns into the black swan. In the film Nina is desperately trying to become the black swan and at the same time hallucinates (or is she?) an actual metamorphosis of her physical body gradually taking place, which is really a skin-picking impulse (or is it?). Nina sees a lot of things. Whether they are real or not, one can’t be sure until the very end and even then, not sure about some things. Nina sees both violent and sexual things happening to herself. She sees these very same things happening to other people. She sees herself doing these things to others as well. The immense stress combined with the constant paranoia leads our dancer to see and do many strange things.
Aronofsky has left me speechless again. I needed time to mull this one over, but there was never a doubt that he had done something special. I best director nomination should be coming up for him.
Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is very thoughtful and imaginative. The brilliant use of mirrors in the film is awe-inspiring and I hope there is some insight into it’s execution on the DVD release. The film is shot in a grainy style similar to The Wrestler though a little less bumpy. An Oscar nomination is due here. Also, look out for an art direction nomination for Therese DePrez as well as costume designer Amy Westcott.
Natalie Portman deserves the Oscar. She took a complete transformation by turning herself into that of a ballet dancer. She was in every single seen and her performance is by far the best of the year. They Academy can’t not give it to her.
You can find Black Swan at several theatres in the Nashville Area.