Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey,
Winona RyderReleased: 20th January 2011
The demanding world of professional Ballet is put under the spotlight in this psychological thriller directed by
Darren Aronofsky. Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballet dancer in the New York Ballet Company living with former ballet dancer mother (Barbara Hershey). The director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) chooses the much admired ballet of Swan Lake as the opening production of the new season with Nina winning the lead role of the Swan Queen requiring Nina to play both roles of the graceful and innocent white swan Odette and the passionate seductive black swan Odile. While sweet, innocent Nina fits the role of the white swan to a T, Leroy informs her that she must work at unleashing the black swan in her, telling her she must live life in order to be able to perform the role perfectly. But Nina has competition in the form of new friend/ rival Lily a newcomer at the ballet company. Lily is the complete opposite of Nina, embodying the carefree, passionate temperament of the black swan. As Nina delves deeper into the role, and her twisted friendship with Lily grows, she begins to crack from the pressure and the line between the real world and Nina’s fantasy begins to blur, slowly turning her from the virtuous Odette into the seductive Odile.
The performances are amazing to watch especially Portman’s portrayal of Nina. Portman displays a great range in playing a character that morphs from a sweet, childlike girl living with an obsessive show mother who doesn’t allow her much privacy, to being thrust into the spotlight in the much coveted role of the swan queen, and showing what this situation can do to an already vulnerable mind. Portman fully immerses herself in the role initially playing Nina with a soft voiced inexperience and gradually showing bits of the rebellious nature hidden inside of her. By the end of the film you hardly recognise Nina who embodies the transformation summarised in the ballet she lives for. Kunis’ character Lily is played as a rival/friend to Nina. Throughout the film you are left wondering if Lily is trying to be friends with Nina or if she has the ulterior motive of usurping Nina’s role as the swan queen. Kunis does a great job of weaving the nice friendly side to Lily and the rival ballerina wanting her big shot in the lead. So intertwined are these sides to Lily you can scarcely determine what her true intent is. The rest of the supporting cast are solid in their roles, with not a sagging performance to be seen.
It was very interesting to see that not only Kunis and Portman’s performances reflected on who their characters were their clothing did also. Nina’s clothes in the beginning were very soft, pale colours like pink, white, cream, while Lily wears mainly black and grey to symbolize Lily being Nina’s opposite in every way including the black wing tattoo on Lily’s back. Even Nina’s bedroom (all pink with fluffy stuffed animals) parallels how much Nina herself has very much stayed the innocent young girl, whether that was because having her mother living with her never allowed her to change her room nor herself into something more like a normal adult. The director Aronofsky does a great job of weaving reality and what is imagined within this film. Analysing the world of ballet, he focuses on the individual problems one can have when they are so invested in their chosen performance – a tactic he also used in The Wrestler.
Black Swan is a film that takes you on a journey where the pressures of ballet can make even the most sane person question themselves and what is real and what isn’t. The performances are impressive with everyone bringing their A game. Watching this will give you an appreciation for what ballet dancers go through physically and psychologically, and introduces you to the lovely and heartbreaking ballet of Swan Lake.