Natalie Portman as the Black Swan.
Black Swan is a brilliant nightmare of a movie with a bravura performance from Natalie Portman. I had no idea she was capable of such emoting. Plus the combination of what must have been months of ballet lessons and seamless editing make her a convincing ballerina. She is in nearly every scene and carries the movie effortlessly. Start picking out your Oscar dress now girl!
Portman plays Nina a veteran dancer for a New York City ballet company. When the company director decides to retire the reigning dance diva Beth (Winona Ryder) Nina is finally given her chance to shine. The role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake is her prize. To carry it off she must exude in her dancing both the pure innocence embodied by the White Swan as well as the sinister sensuality of her evil twin the Black Swan.
Nina’s world revolves obsessively around the ballet. Director Darren Aronofsky gives the entire movie an appropriately claustrophobic feeling. It is gorgeously shot and there is a sense of foreboding that grows as the story moves along. Without giving too much away let’s just say that Nina has some unresolved psychological issues that begin to affect her grasp on reality…
The other characters include the ballet director Thomas (Vincent Cassel), a temperamental taskmaster who brazenly wants to get in Nina’s pants. Then there is Nina’s mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), she is overprotective, bitter and nearly as obsessed with Nina’s career as Nina herself is. Lily (Mila Kunis) is a young dancer new to the company and Nina’s biggest competition (shades of All About Eve). Whereas Nina naturally embodies the purity of the White Swan, the uninhibited Lily is a natural for the Black Swan.
Black Swan contains some disturbing images especially in the second half as the horror elements begin to take center stage. Straight men and lesbians alike will enjoy a rather explicit sex scene between Nina and Lily, which signals the beginning of the film’s climax.
Intense and beautifully wrought, Black Swan is not for everyone. The subject matter and storyline will polarize audiences. You will either love it or hate it. Count me in the former category.
Natalie Portman in Black Swan.
You can count me among those who love this movie as well. I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie that so successfully gets inside the head of its lead character. What is essentially a simple story of a production of Swan Lake takes on sinister overtones as Nina (played brilliantly by Portman) descends into madness. I would go so far as to describe this movie as a thriller, even though the only danger exists entirely within Nina's mind. The combination of Aronofsky's direction and Portman's performance has to put Black Swan at or near the top of the short list of films likely to be nominated for awards.
A big portion of the success of this movie is due to its point of view. You see the events of the story entirely through Nina's eyes. Given that Nina's sanity is a delicate thing, you can guess how that might skew the story. Her high-strung nature combined with her overprotective mother's bitter attitude and the high intensity demands her profession places on her mind and body all adds up to someone who is walking the fine line between genius and madness. The question of the movie is, which side of the knifes' edge upon which she's walking, will she land on?
Visually the movie is stunning. I'm quite certain that art direction and cinematography nominations are guaranteed. As the story and Nina's madness progresses the images in the film grow progressively stranger and more intense. Nina's visions are filmed as a horror movie and are often startling, with several moments that might actually make you jump in your seat.
Another big plus is the fast pace of the story. Too often when a movie is touted as artistic that translates into overblown and incredibly slow, but not so here. With a running time of well under 2 hours, the story moves briskly along, picking up speed as it progresses and Nina's madness deepens.
Like Patrick I think Portman is certainly due an Oscar nomination. Likewise Aronofsky would be wise to have a tux on hand as he is a lock for a director's nomination.
If this movie does polarize audiences, I think it will be for its ending, but given all that comes before it, there's really no other way for it to end.
The white and the black swan.
As the movie starts, Nina is the white swan. She wears a white scarf around her neck that resembles feathers. She seems innocent, fending off the directors sexual advances and phoning her mother to say, "He picked me mommy."
She keeps having visions of herself dressed in black. She thinks she sees herself on the subway or on the street. She is a natural as the white swan but must learn to become the evil, seductive black swan.
Upon getting the lead role, her life starts to become sexual. The old diva drunkenly asks her about how she got the role, "Did you suck his cock?" To which Nina responds, "Some of us don't have to." She masturbates, as instructed by the director, Thomas. In front of Nina, Thomas asks her dance partner, "Would you fuck that girl?" Thomas then proceeds to grope her into sexual stimulation.
Her final transformation happens at the night club. Her "date' mildly flirts with her but she ends up making out with a stranger. Then comes the much talked about sex scene with Lily. Note the dark sweater she wears shortly afterwards. She is now the black swan and has, without any doubt, lost her mind.
My brothers are both correct that this is a love it or hate it film. The entire plot is an unstable girls descent into madness. There are scenes and images that you never know if they are real or not. As such, I was never able to sympathize with Nina. I truly never cared about anything that happened to her. Sure you can enjoy the artistry of the film and Portman's performance, but the slim plot and odd lead character left me out in the cold.
Photos © Copyright Fox Searchlight Pictures (2010)