‘Black Swan’ Rises To The Occasion

Last week I finally had the chance to see Black Swan, and wow, I haven’t seen a film like this in I don’t know how many years. If you haven’t heard about the film, Wikipedia describes it as “a psychological thriller or a psychological horror film, its plot revolves around a production of Swan Lake by a prestigious New York City ballet company.” It’s directed by one of my time favorites Darren Aronofsky, who you might know from his previous films Pi or Requiem for a Dream… oh, and that movie that made Mickey Rourke famous again.

This time around he’s gone back to his creepy Pi roots, creating a film that’s not only unnerving but one of the best visual treats year, and possibly the last century. Big words, right? Well, in my opinion this film is something that’s never been seen before. Continue on for my spoiler filled review.

This movie is a self-obsessed, destructive journey into obsession, that ultimately ends in the demise of the star of the movie, Natalie Portman, who plays the main character Nina Sayers. Nina is a 20-something ballet dancer still living at home with her mother striving to get a lead role in the upcoming production of Swan Lake. Of course, she ends up getting the roe of the Swan Queen, though her director, played by Vincent Cassel, sees that she’s perfect for the White Swan, but the evil Black Swan is beyond her. She has no ability to let go, to become something more primal and without perfection.

That’s kind of the whole point of the movie, the striving for perfection. But who is she trying to become perfect for exactly? It’s not her mother, a washed up ballerina who gave up her dreams to raise Nina. I don’t think it’s for herself either. Throughout the entire movie she never seems to want to be the center of attention. If anything I think she wants simply to be… the best. And to become the best, she’ll do whatever it takes, and that ultimately leads to obsession.

With a movie like Pi there was a similar theme with obsession. In Pi he was obsessed with figuring out pi, or the golden ratio as it’s also known, and it’s relationship to the stock market. Ultimately it leads to the main character roughly giving himself a lobotomy in order to get over his obsession with the mathematical equation. In Black Swan though, Nina’s obsession is becoming a perfect dancer, dancing perfectly not only the White Swan part but the Black Swan one as well. This obsession leads Nina to disturbing hallucinations that end up driving her to the brink of insanity.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I saw the movie, but I can easily say that I was a nervous mess the whole time. There was a constant state of unease thanks to Aronofsky’s use of tight angles, where he’d focus in on Nina’s face and you knew there would be something right behind her. It was further amplified by the score of Clint Mansell, a frequent collaborator of Aronofsky. Where his score would accompany the play beautifully it would give you a creepy sense of unease a moment later.

It’s also worth noting how great Mila Kunis is which was a surprise to me. I have a hard time distancing her from That 70’s Show but her performance in Black Swan is absolutely award winning. Barbara Hershey also does a wonderful job of playing NIna’s overprotective mother. And of course, Natalie Portman does a phenomenal job embodying the two very different psyche’s of Nina.

I’m not sure I could say that this was my favorite movie of the year but I believe it was the best movie of the year. I haven’t been so engaged in a movie in I don’t know how long. Simply stunning and absolutely worth your time.


January 2, 2011