Monday, December 27, 2010

Black Swan

Nina Sayers is an intense ballet dancer intent on attaining perfection. She practices hours a day and doesn't have much of a life outside of her dancing. She lives at home with her overbearing, controlling mother, who is a former ballet dancer, and doesn't have many friends. Her dream is to dance the role of the Swan Queen in the ballet Swan Lake. However, the director of her company thinks she doesn't have what it takes to be both the delicate, fragile White Swan and the seductive, evil Black Swan. She is the embodiment of the White Swan and is technically a very good dancer, but she lacks the passion and ability to let go of her carefully constructed control. The director sees a glimpse of the Black Swan within her, so he casts her in the role. However, he alternates between berating her for her shortcomings and abusing her sexually. In addition, Lily, a new dancer, seems to be perfect for the Black Swan part and seems to be constantly trying to beat Nina in any way possible. Despite their rivalry, Nina is drawn to Lily in an inexplicable way. All of this combined with Nina's quest to get in touch with her dark side are wearing on Nina. She starts to hallucinate and has difficulty discerning fantasy from reality. Can she achieve the level of performance she wants for the lead role while still retaining her sanity or will this role destroy her?

I was afraid I wasn't going to get to see this film in the theater because it wasn't playing in any mainstream theaters and it was slowly leaving the indie ones around LA. It was deservedly nominated for 4 Golden Globes and is now showing at just about every theater. I went to see it with my family on Christmas day because nothing says holiday quite like a psychosexual thriller. My entire family and I were blown away by it. I think the film's success is owed to the characters, the direction, and the music.

The characters in the film are utterly believable and drive the film forward. Natalie Portman bears the bulk of the film on her shoulders, since she's the main character, and does a beautiful job of portraying a ballet dancer in her descent into madness. Nina at the beginning of the film is a little girl living in a grown woman's body. Her mother treats her like a child and she lives in a room fit for a young girl, filled with stuffed animals and pink butterfly wallpaper. She seems to be stunted emotionally with no other friends or family. Her only love and her only life is dancing. This is called into question when the director insists that she is too virginal and innocent to play the lead in Swan Lake. Her fragility and neuroses are uncomfortable to watch. As she tries desperately to impress the director and tries to attain perfection, she starts to mentally break down, but breaks through the childish facade she had been living in. She has to give in to emotion instead of the well practiced control she has. I know from experience that a performer that is technically good, but has no passion or emotion in the performance, is pretty dull to watch or listen to. The destruction of her whole self is needed for her to attain perfection as a dancer in her mind. As she descends into madness, the film gets more and more violent and unpredictable. When she finally dances the coveted role of the Swan Queen in front of an audience, it's absolutely beautiful to watch. The events that go on behind the scenes, real or imagined, give her the perfect state of mind in which to dance either the White or Black Swan roles. Her Black Swan was the opposite of everything that Nina was throughout the rest of the film: predatory, seductive, and almost snakelike. She was almost unrecognizable. At the end of the film, it's almost impossible to tell which events actually happened and which are the product of Nina's fractured mind.

The other characters just add to the film. Vincent Cassel as the director is a kind of hybrid mentor and villain. He pushes her to become a better and greater dancer while using his position of power to abuse her. He simultaneously pushes her forward and breaks her down. I really loved to hate his character. Mila Kunis played Lily, the physical manifestation of the Black Swan. She is the opposite of Lily in almost every way. She is uncontrolled and relies on emotion rather than control in her dancing. The rivalry and friendship between her and Nina is compelling to watch. Barbara Hershey as Nina's mother is extremely creepy and takes the stage mother to a new level. The cast as an ensemble worked brilliantly together.

Darren Aronofsky is a great director. I loved both Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain before Black Swan. In this film, he creates a small world inhabited by dancers that seems separate from the rest of the world. The atmosphere is tense and it seems as if someone could lose a part the minute they do or say the wrong thing. There are many things that aren't talked about in the open, but gossiped about quietly amongst the dancers. I loved the use of the handheld cameras and closeups. It gave the film an intimate, claustrophobic feeling as well as enhanced the off-kilter route of Nina's mind. The only part of the film that felt open and spacious was on the stage.

I have enjoyed many of Clint Mansell's film scores, including The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, and Moon, but I think I enjoy Black Swan the most. It features, of course, Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake ballet music and Clint Mansell's unique ambient music with it. His music is largely repetitive and different from usual film scores, opting to use a more modern as opposed to classical approach. I thought the placement of the source music was perfect, as were his additions. The score is really what helped build up the tension in the film for me. I have been listening to the score pretty much nonstop since I saw the film. Here is one of my favorite tracks, Perfection, which is the music that Nina dances to as the Black Swan.

I really enjoyed this film. I like its feminist undertones, mainly that it deals with issues that plague primarily women, such as eating disorders, infantilization, objectification, self mutilation, etc. I think, to some extent, the film is about any woman's drive to be the ideal woman that is, for most women, unattainable without surgery. It's a unique, dark, and disturbing film. I would highly recommend this to everyone.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins

1 comment:

E. Van Lowe said...

I saw this one at an Academy screening over a month ago. Disturbingly Awesome! I can't get it off my mind.