My second favorite film, following Network, is The Red Shoes. This movie is gorgeous in how it is shot and has the power to be re-watched again and again. So when I saw the trailer for Black Swan, I was pumped.
Both films are about ballerinas, beauty, and the darkness of creating art told through a re-interpretation of a classic fairy tale. After watching the trailer a few times in the span of a few minutes, I refused to watch or read anything else about the film. As a film student, if too much information is given to me, I’m usually able to surmise what will happen during the movie. I wanted to go into Black Swan with no expectations, though I was highly excited. But nothing, I mean NOTHING, could have prepared me for what I saw.
Black Swan is about a young ballerina, Nina (played by Natalie Portman) who replaces the company’s star (Winona Ryder) dancing the role as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. Nina can dance and she perfectly exemplifies the beauty and fragility of the White Swan. However, she doesn’t possess the dark, seductive nature of the Black Swan. Struggling with a passive aggressive yet smothering mother and the threat of a newcomer ballerina, Nina begins to crack under the pressure of portraying the two Swans in the ballet.
If you know the plot of the ballet Swan Lake, then you probably know the plot of the film since it does follow the tale quite closely. As for those that grew up on the animated version that is no where near correct, there is a quick summary of the ballet near the beginning of the film. Even though it reveals what the ending could be, you still will not be prepared for how the movie unravels.
Some have described Black Swan as a psychological thriller, and for the first and second act, I’d agree with this. But the third act is horror. Not necessarily gory, but disturbing none the less. It will have your heart pounding till the very end of the film, and when it abruptly stops, you will be reeling.
The film has numerous strengths, from acting to sound design. Portman gives the performance of her career. You can tell she has dance experience. The camera rarely cuts away from her, so you just know that when she is dancing it is truly the actress and not a double. Portman plays a bit younger than she is, but it is believable.
As for Mila Kunis, most audience members will know her more for her humorous work, so they won’t be surprised to find that she pulls the most jokes in the film. Not to say that there are many of them, they are few and far between but they do break the tension.
Having never seen any other work by Darren Aronofsky, I can’t compare Black Swan to his previous films. What I can say is that Aronofsky is a craftsman. Not only does he direct his actors brilliantly, but he has coordinated all of his other technicians well too.
The sound design of the film should and probably will get a nod from the Academy. It is strong in building suspense and creating a sense of dread, as is the cinematography combined with the production design, the use of mirrors and for the majority of the time subtle special effects create a gothic atmosphere.
The film is highly sexual, but there is little nudity. Try to figure that one out. The film is also violent, but not bloody. The restraint is one of Black Swan’s highest points. The film climaxes at the third act, amping everything up, but until then it’s a slow build. The film gradually adds more visual and aural cues of Nina’s madness, creating suspense that is only exacerbated in the final thirty minutes.
Now, Black Swan is not for everyone. It is highly disturbing, well deserving of it’s R-rating. For those that do not understand, they’ll find the film rather pessimistic. If you go to the movies to be entertained, this is not for you.
Black Swan is meant for those that want an experience, similar to a roller coaster. You’ll be on a ride that won’t let you go till the credits roll around. Those with weak hearts, literally and figuratively, should not try their luck with Black Swan. But the adventurous moviegoer will be in for one of the top films of 2010.