I can still feel the chills down my spine, looking at my own reflection in the mirror, sweat dripping into my bathrooms basin. However, I don’t do any physical anything, I don’t do ballet and I’m not insane. Although Black Swan’s Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is, and boy does she do a fantastic job holding up the weight of this dark film.
Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, for all intents and purposes is a rather disturbing film, which twists and pirouettes with a superb intensity and darkness that I probably wouldn’t expect from a film about ballerinas and their sanity. But what we get is something that focuses primarily on Nina, a dancer that aims for perfection and oozes elegance in the interpretation of her dancing; our immediate thought process puts her in the perfect position to play the White Swan. Natalie Portman portrays this with such a range of emotion that she moves out of the innocent framework we see her established with and watch her change into a much more scary, broken and dangerous girl.
Although Portman’s character development couldn't go anywhere without some people in her life and we’re fortunate to see her supported by a raft of excellent characters. In her personal life, her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), a former dancer herself focuses on seeing her little girl succeed, pushing her hard and always keeping her in her line of perfection. In her professional life, Thomas (Vincent Cassel) runs the ballet company Nina dances for. The man is a “visionary” who sees Nina as the next lead for his reinvention of Swan Lake. However, you immediately get the feeling that he isn’t the purist of pure; instead we’re treated to a man that womanises to get what he wants. A point I’ll pick up on in a tick in regards to Aronofsky’s straight up directorial style. Nina seems to have it all going for her with her selection to lead the next season of Swan Lake, until the door slams shut, introducing her “doppelganger” in the form of Lily (Mila Kunis).
This is where Aronofsky brings the big guns, rushing us into Nina’s feelings towards Lily’s personality, which mirrors that of the Black Swan, the side of the Swan Queen that Nina can’t get right. Portman manages to squeeze out a level of curiosity that we would find in a documentary about wildlife exhibiting a change in their environment. The biggest thing I got out of this, and excuse me for sounding a bit slow on the story, was that Aronofsky’s stylistic choices don’t just play into reality but also into a hint of the supernatural. He does a splendid job at delicately balancing Nina’s states of mentality; is there a supernatural force at play or is Nina batshit insane?
Aronofsky brings across that sense of a fractured mental state, with jarring hand held camera movements. One particular scene, has the audience watch Nina spin over and over, and the camera works with her movements, spin after spin after spin. In this case, we would lose that sense of intensity had Aronofsky chosen a softer more smoother approach to his building of each scene.
Like I said, a big note to make is that Aronofsky doesn’t shy away from burying the subtext of the story, instead bringing it out in a rather bold, frightening fashion. One recurring motif in the film is the use of mirrors, a kind of sub textual nudge towards the audience, as we see Nina’s personality dip in and out of the adaptive personality the role of playing the Swan Queen requires. Portman deserves the Oscar, no doubt about it. She carries this film with a dark elegance, balanced perfectly with the innocence and curiosity to make her character charming, and one that we can get behind. Regardless of how radical the character changes over the course of the film.
Portman will get the Oscar, she deserves it. As a whole, Black Swan isn’t going to win best picture, nor will Aronofsky for direction, it’s too small and dark of a film to make any push for the gold. However that doesn’t make this film any less than fantastic, this isn’t something you’d take to your date to for Valentine’s Day, this is something you want to sit down and watch when your mind isn’t so relaxed. Why? Because if you switched your brain off, the film loses its edge with the creepy scenes and shock cuts and the pay off at the end would not be as satisfying, please watch this when you’re wide awake. This needs to be watched with a focus that you’d expect Nina Sayers to have, although I’d imagine most of us aren’t as crazy as her.