Even though I have absolutely no passion for ballet whatsoever, I was actually very interested in checking out Darren Aronofsky’s latest (2010) effort, Black Swan (he is also known for directing the famous Requiem for a Dream). It turned out to be a surprisingly effective thriller which kept me gripped from beginning to end – the growing sense of unease throughout was wonderfully created by everyone involved. There’s an absolutely brilliant cast consisting of Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel (I literally did not even recognise him the first time I saw this movie!), Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder (though I’m disappointed that she didn’t get more of a role – I think I counted just five scenes that she appeared in). Great performances all round, in my opinion.
My full respect goes out to Natalie Portman for her dedication to the role by starting to learn ballet a year before any filming was actually going to take place. It’s always nice to see actors who are passionate and committed to their profession, I know that special effects or dance doubles probably did a portion of the dancing too, but Natalie Portman still deserves praise for putting the time in herself (to the point where she even twisted her rib at one point and sacrificed her trailer in order to have money in the budget for a medic), with Darren Aronofsky himself pointing out that without her devotion and determination, the film might never have been made.
I’m sure that most people reading this will be aware of the storyline of Black Swan – it basically mirrors that of Swan Lake but with some twists and turns and updates, that have made the whole thing much more exciting and tense. There are even some moments which wouldn’t appear out of place in a horror film!
I love the fact that the visuals for the film were so thoroughly thought out, with the frequent use of blacks and whites contrasting with each other to create this ongoing theme of ‘good versus evil’. The viewer can actually see Nina’s transformation before their very eyes and this is an incredible achievement on the director’s part. We are taken on a psychological journey as she goes from a girl to a woman, as she lets go of those childish fantasies and stands up for herself. There was also a lot of use of mirrors throughout which enhances this question of identity and ‘self’. These carefully considered aspects are beautifully understated and only become greater with every viewing.
It could be argued that Natalie Portman’s character was already a little…let’s call it ‘unhinged’ to start off with, and so it’s not such a grand transformation really. But this is what Black Swan is all about, reaching those darker places within yourself – the side that she was too afraid to delve into and embrace before. Whilst I admit that I did find some of the hallucination/fantasy scenes alarming, I feel that that was exactly the point. Also, perhaps the fact that Mila Kunis’s character literally had a tattoo of black wings on her back was a tad on the blatant side, though it wasn’t something that overly bothered me.
I honestly didn’t expect to like this movie all that much and after the first watch, I still wasn’t entirely sure what I made of it. However, I think that the pure devotion that went into making the film speaks for itself really. Extreme care was put into all of the little details and I couldn’t help but admire this beautiful creation. If you have not already seen Black Swan, then I highly suggest taking the time to watch it (more than once, if you fancy!) because, in my opinion, it’s well worth it. Who knew a film about ballerinas could be so sinister? Nice work.