Black Swan is a bit of a mind-rape. Although, if you have seen any of Darron Aronofsky’s films you pretty much expect that walking in. From drills in Pi to everything in Requiem for a Dream, you know that this man has absolutely no idea what the term “subtle” means.
Black Swan is about Nina (Natalie Portman). Nina is in a ballet company that is looking to reinvent itself. The director (played by the always amazing Vincent Cassel) has decided that the way to do that is to get rid of the aging star (Winona Rider) and create a new star in a dramatic reinterpretation of Swan Lake. Nina wants that role and is easily able to earn it.
Unfortunately, this is where all of her troubles begin. I was informed by one of the ladies I saw this movie with that the movie was very true to real life. Many ballerinas who pursue their dance professionally so totally devote their life to their art that they don’t really develop outside of dance. No boyfriends, no relationships, little sex and absolutely no partying. This is the crux of Nina’s problem. She is in her late 20’s, but still acts like a 14 year old girl.
She is exquisite in the execution of her dance, which fits the role of the White Swan perfectly. But the lead role also necessitates she play the Black Swan. This role requires abandon, maturity and a sexuality that Nina does not possess. To make matters worse, Lily (Mila Kunis) has just joined the dance company and it is pretty obvious that she is well versed in abandon and sexuality. Thus giving Nina someone to fear, in losing the spot she has worked so hard to obtain.
The director pushes Nina harder and harder to stretch outside of her comfort zone, embrace her sexuality and just dance. This only reinforces her thoughts that she cannot do it. Nina befriends Lily and is shown a whole new world. What is fantastic about this is that we start to wonder whether Lily actually exists, or if she is just in Nina’s head.
A few things that you have probably heard about the movie: yes, there is a lesbian sex scene between Kunis and Portman. But as a strongly heterosexual male, I must admit that it is very far from a turn on as it is portrayed. The scene is at the same time a release and breakdown for Nina. Plus, both actresses are so skinny for their roles (to their credit) that for two women who are already tiny, their is just not a lot there for lusting after.
Another thing to consider is what I discussed earlier. Aronofsky is not subtle. The night terrors that Requiem for a Dream induced in me are not present. But Aronofsky is not afraid to show you the limits that ballerinas are willing to push their bodies past for their art. This can make some very simple scenes very disturbing.
With all of that, there is one reason above all others to go see this movie. Natalie Portman. If that woman does not win an Oscar for Best Actress, then someone is drinking dumb-ass juice. I do not know if there is one scene in this movie where Portman is not afraid of something, and we not only believe it, but we are scared for her.
This movie is intense. But it is also beautiful. It is a lesson in fighting for what we want and the price we pay for getting it. I highly recommend Black Swan.