Perfection to a fault – It’s no secret that the world of ballet is one that is more complex than many of us realize. With that said, it’s still an ‘art of dance’ and something many young women put their entire life into. Nothing gets left behind when you are a ballet dancer, as the pure preparation and body transformation is like no other technical art of its kind. Simply put, ballet demands perfection and it’s from that ideal that “Black Swan” was built upon, resulting in a film that is both beautiful and terrifying the longer you watch the drama unfold.
What’s it really about? Without giving away too much, this entire story revolves around Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) and her unheralded transformation within a NYC ballet company that was on the verge of extinction. Needing to do something big, ballet director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decided to reinvent the classic production of Swan Lake. In doing this, he let go of his longtime leading lady, Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) creating a firestorm among the rest of the company trying to earn their own place. Shortly thereafter, tryouts for Swan Lake commenced and it was then we saw the emergence of several unique personalities, one of them being Nina’s. Virtually smothered her entire life by her overbearing mother, Nina never felt good about herself and had trouble “letting go.” So, naturally, when asked to transform from the innocent ‘White Swan’ into the sensual and often reckless ‘Black Swan’ of Swan Lake, Nina struggled. But, what made her shine as the ‘White Swan’ was also her ultimate demise as the ‘Black Swan,’ creating a quandary for the director who took a chance in casting her as the Swan Queen. It was then this entire story took a side step into the unknown, as all the struggle and dedication that goes into this complex ‘art of dance’ came to the forefront for Nina, ultimately leading to a symbolic conclusion loaded with intrigue.
Who was in it? If you don’t remember who Natalie Portman is, you will after watching her in this film, as she transcended what the entire art of ballet is for so many people. Completely dedicating herself to this role, Portman began training six months prior to filming, attaining the precise body type in order to sell this type of dancer to audiences. Well it worked, as I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction and in depth look into the dynamic world of ballet. Because let’s face it, unless you have grown up in a studio around ballet, you have no clue what it takes, which is why I was so impressed with what Portman was able to do. Sure, the script helped, but I just can’t see anyone else that could have pulled this role off in the way Portman did, unleashing a wicked mix of innocence and hidden inhibition. Without that, it would have been difficult to buy into the rest of the characters and cast, which filled in nicely. And really, outside of Portman, only Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis are worth noting, as each played a vital part within this unique story.
A director’s paradise – For those living under a rock, director Darren Aronofsky is the same guy that was behind 2008’s “The Wrestler,” which starred the great Mickey Rourke, who later won a few awards for his part. And in many ways, “Black Swan” is the sister film to “The Wrestler,” as both deal with some sort of pain and suffering for an “art” that so many of us do not understand. Aronofsky has even gone as far as to point out how similar wrestling and ballet are, noting “they each make incredible use of their bodies to express themselves.” So don’t think for a second Aronofsky didn’t put anything into this film, because all it takes is the first 5 minutes to see that he did. Nothing was overdone, which for this director is an achievement, when you consider the lengths he has gone in the past to get his point across. So, I commend him for continuing to grow into the director he is right now within such a short amount of time, as “Black Swan” only marks his fifth true film project since 2000.
Of course, if you were to ask any fan of his, you might think Aronofsky has done over twenty, given how much of an impact his first hit, “Requiem for a Dream” made. Sure, it’s a tough one to sit through, but there’s a certain brilliance to it that you simply cannot teach. Ironically, the success of that film has almost been a thorn in the young director’s side, as everything he does seems to be compared to it. Well, “Black Swan” might be the closest he has come to recreating that magic, as all too often, I would find myself stuck within the emotion and drama taking place, unable to take a breath until the blaring score paused. Not every director can achieve that, which is why Aronofsky is so unique and why he should be praised for his work here. Being able to fit in all the right imagery and underlying moments of clarity takes a certain talent, but Aronofsky seems to always be up for the challenge. So while there could be a couple things that I might have done differently, overall this was a well-balanced film, which in the end was just what I wanted.
Bottom Line – If there was one thing that rang true the more you watched “Black Swan” was how much of a role the ‘muse’ of this film played. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake may not be the most well known classical ballet, but it’s one of the most beautiful pieces you’ll ever watch. The pure transformation that takes place within this film is enough for me to recommend it, but go see it for yourself to understand why it will be among the list when the Oscar ballots roll out.
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