It’s a film about obsession, about beauty, about desire and longing, and about jealousy. It will force a range of emotions upon you, from stark fear to arousal, and it has a soundtrack that will move you to tears. In all honesty, it wouldn’t be amiss to declare that Black Swan is a perfect creation of cinema – a masterpiece.
Black Swan is essentially a modern, twisted retelling of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and it’s utterly exhiliarating. Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, a ballet dancer in a New York City ballet company who, after years of trying, has finally scored the lead role of The Swan Queen in their upcoming production of Swan Lake. However, it’s a precise role, requiring dual characteristics, both that of the Black Swan and the White Swan, and ballet director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) isn’t convinced that she’s capable of exhibiting the right flare. Meanwhile, fellow dancer, newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) seems to effortlessly portray the Black Swan, and Lily starts to fear that the girl is after her part.
Nina, whose character and personality is being repressed by her dominating mother, struggles to find some independence and adopt the free will and spirit of the Black Swan, and she initially befriends Lily, believing that her reckless lifestyle could inspire the freedom she needs for the role. However, it’s not long before Lily seems more of a foe than a friend, and Nina’s not sure she can control the dark side of herself that she is toying with.
Director Darren Aronofsky is famed for his explorative, and imaginative cinematography and Black Swan is a perfect example of this. There are numerous shots throughout that would be worth pausing and just enjoying as still photographs. This combined with intriguing set designs and astoundingly beautiful costumes (designed by Amy Westcott) make Black Swan a visual feast.
Both Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis give career defining performances, particularly Portman, whose acting is surely worthy of Oscar attention, and as little as I know about ballet, it seemed to me they were both spectacular dancers too – certainly they move with a confidence and elegance that charm the viewer.
It would be unfair to neglect to mention Clint Mansell’s superb score that underlies the entire movie. It is heavily drawn from Tchaikovsky’s original music, but whilst that deems it ineligible for Oscar attention, it makes for a dramatic, majestic and emotional score, the likes of which hasn’t really been used with film before. It’s as if the 19th Century composer himself wrote the music.
In terms of genre, Black Swan occupies a definite grey area. In many ways it could be considered a horror. It’s very frightening at times, predominantly due to suspense rather than constant visual shocks, and the shadowy, dark colour palette is especially foreboding. However, it perhaps functions more as a psychological thriller – what you see is rarely what is happening, the ballet director seems to be the architect of some dangerous mind games, and is Nina losing her mind? Undoubtedly there is much more method to the madness than might first appear and it’s this magic of uncertainty and paranoia that will keep you spellbound through to the tragic, heart wrenching climax.
This is a triumph of film making and one to watch again and again. Definitely worth seeing at the cinema.
Run time: 108 min
Country of Origin: USA