Runtime: 108 mins
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Perfection. Black Swan is astounding perfection. On dreary winter nights, movies billed as ‘psychological thrillers’ are probably not the cheery fare I am looking for but having heard rave reviews about Black Swan, a few nights ago my sister and I ambled along into the theatre that was packed with people. I assure you – a packed theatre is a considerably rare occurrence out here. So after squeezing into 2 seats together padded by our parka jackets, we settled in for the ride. And my! What a ride it was!
Black Swan tells the story of Nina Sayers ( Natalie Portman), a New York City Ballet Company dancer who at the start auditions for the lead role of the White Swan/Black Swan in the company’s production of Swan Lake. Nina lives with her mother who we gather was herself formerly a dancer and while all appears fun and warm at first, it soon reveals itself that Nina is indeed under an excruciating thumb. The company’s director Toma ( Vincent Cassel ) is an amusing Frenchman who pushes and plays with his ballerinas in an odd jestful twisted way to evince the best out of them. He appears lustful – But it appears confusing whether such lust is for the individual dancers or for the production itself. Toma is convinced that Nina would make a great White Swan but does she have what it takes to the Black Swan? This question is repeatedly hammered in by Toma and then taken over by Nina to the manic level of obsession that accelerates the movie forward. Lily (Mila Kunis ) is a playful dancer from San Francisco who arrives at the start to join the company. She is undoubtedly talented and entirely antithetical to Nina in every which way.
Nina wants the lead role. Very Very Bad. But this is hardly something that jumps out at you – instead, we see this desire build and exude itself through Nina’s dreams, imagination, hallucinations and cracks that appear in her perfect persona. The mind trip ( some may be tempted to say ‘mind fuck’ – but this movie is such an amazing work of art that I can tell you that would be smearing beauty) that Nina goes through is in itself the plot of the movie. At some points, the movie teeters dangerously between a ‘thriller’ as it is billed and full fledged horror flick – but it teeters …it never fully loses control – very much like Nina’s character. As the audience, you wait with bated breath for everything to explode and oh – it does.
Now onto the fun stuff: The famed Lesbian love scene between Nina & Lily (Portman & Kunis ) – The scene forms part of a longer thread in the movie that delves into Nina’s sensuality ( or lack thereof). This sensual thread begins with a forced kiss, Toma urging Nina to touch herself ( quite hilarious and not quite verbatism below)
Toma: I want you to go home and touch yourself. Live a little.
I have been tempted to say that to some individuals I know. It was rather amusing to hear it voiced. And the scene where Nina does attempt to touch herself is remarkable – First, You are fully reminded of Natalie Portman’s training for this role because her body is revealed in striking clarity as she writhes and humps her fingers. Second, The attempt ends and how! The thread continues with a little groping and of course, the [oral] sex scene between Nina & Lily. Short and Hot. It forms a part of the plot. Yeah. Ok. Moving on.
Final notes on Natalie Portman and The Director, Darren Aronofsky – Portman is not only a serious oscar contender for her portrayal as Nina Sayers, She may actually win the coveted bald golden man. And it would be undoubtedly, well deserved. Her performance is riveting. Given the physical and emotional demands of this character, Portman plays Nina with such finesse that when you next see her in a dumb upcoming romantic comedy with Ashton Kutcher – you may actually cry in despair. Because nothing – Absolutely nothing – compares to what Portman has pulled off in Black Swan. Those of you familiar with Darren Aronofsky’s earlier work ( Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler ) may not be very surprised by Black Swan but will still be fully appreciative of the movie. I think the best way to describe the Black Swan is ‘taut’ – It is paced just right, makes you cringe the right amount, makes you jump out of your seat at just the right intervals, turns you on a bit, horrifies you more…it even makes you laugh. That’s right – It makes you laugh. Using the characters of Lily and Toma, Aronofsky even has a few well deserved laughs coming the plot’s way. The casting, the sets, Nina’s room, the visceral nature of Nina’s hallucination – all thrust Black Swan into a the realm of perfection.
I think all of the words you have read. But in the end, you may just walk out of the theatre like my sister and go “I didn’t get it”
[ I have a personal predilection towards Tchaikovksy’s works and Swan Lake is a easily one of his most recognizable and forms the background score to this movie as it rightly should– It wavers between a haunting sense of yearning and heightened drama. Very appropriate. ]