Black Swan

Movie review by EDF

Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Ksenia Solo, Kristina Anapau, Janet Montgomery
Director: Darren Aronofsky

If a survey was taken asking if movie goers have ever been to a ballet performance, it would be safe to say that a lot of you out there have never been or are even interested in going to one. So why should you be bothered with this movie? Director Darren Aronofsky sets out to show what ballet dancers go through, not just the physical aspect, but also the mental anguish one goes through when cast in the lead role of a production.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a ballet dancer who aspires to hit the big time. The ballet company she is with plan to produce a new version of the classic Swan Lake with a new lead ballerina, ousting ageing Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder). In a desperate need to clinch the role, Nina approaches the production director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) and expresses how much she wants the role. He refuses to consider her for the lead and shows Nina the door but closes it before she has the chance to leave. Disappointed by her approach to obtain the role, Thomas makes a move on Nina and kisses her. Surprised by this, Nina bites him and runs out of his office, knowing that she has ruined any chance of becoming the Swan Queen.

Disappointment turns to surprise and joy when Nina finds out she has been picked as the new Swan Queen. Nina tells her overbearing and overprotective mother Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey), who also was a ballerina in her younger days, and Erica buys a big celebration cake which Nina initially refuses to eat.

Meanwhile, Thomas quickly realises that Nina is technically gifted to perform the White Swan but not the more lustful, evil Black Swan role. The passion he is looking for lies with another ballet dancer Lily (Mila Kunis), who makes ballet dancing seem so effortless and carefree. Nina is aware of this and she views Lily as her nemesis or doppelganger. Lily tries everything to become friends with Nina, even trying sexual advances, which scares Nina away. Thomas provides extra coaching to Nina, informing her that the role requires her to seduce the male leads, which she is not capable of. The only advice he provides her is to go home and sexually explore her own body. Will Nina be able to provide the performance required or will her world begin to tumble down around her?

The underlying feeling you get watching BLACK SWAN is how emotional and at times bizarre the movie is. It is told from Nina’s perspective and her world revolves around her mother, with whom she is continually looking for approval. Feeling like an outsider with no friends to confide in, her mind compensates with an overactive imagination that at some point becomes a blur as it melts into the real world.

Aronofsky used only one camera to shoot the movie and in some scenes the camera sweeps you in and around the dancers, making you feel like you are one of them, whether it is the rehearsal scenes or the eventual big performance. This is a welcome change to other dance type movies that use multiple shots and fast editing to convey an energetic performance. Due to this, BLACK SWAN has a style of its own and there is nowhere to hide for the performers involved especially Portman who not only had studied ballet when she was young, but also trained for a year to perfect her ballet skills for the movie. But BLACK SWAN is not just about ballet; it is also the psychological breakdown and at times surreal look at someone who is unable to express herself through her chosen art. That is the journey we take with Nina and we are kept guessing to the very end how it will all turn out.

6 out of 6 stars