Newest Review: ... the black swan, and Natalie is very convincing as an angelic figure that cannot break through. Which is where Mila Kunis comes in aptly... more
Black Swan - Beautiful and Tragic
Black Swan (DVD)
Member Name: icetsunami
Black Swan (DVD)
Advantages: Stunning visuals, superb acting, utterly compelling
Disadvantages: Ballet won't appeal to all
Black Swan is an intense psychological journey following a dancer who constantly strives for perfection and the toll it takes on both her body and more importantly her mind.
Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a talented and highly committed ballerina who trains relentlessly to be the best dancer she can possibly be. In a very competitive dance company run by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) Nina goes all out to prove herself as the perfect choice for Leroy's reinterpretation of Swan Lake, looking for the role of Swan Queen, playing both the white and the black swan.
Smothered by a menacingly protective mother played really well by Barbara Hershey, she becomes increasingly more detached as she struggles to prove she has the dark abandon to play the black swan as well as the pure, perfect white swan which echoes her skill and technique.
Embarking on a journey of unnerving self abuse and competing against her apparent duplicitous rival Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina spirals out of control as the two personas of the Swan Queen begin to mirror her life and then chaotically merge with dramatic effect.
Natalie Portman provides a subtle frailty to the role which consistently increase in impact as her world falls apart. The obsessive maternal figure really holds in the childlike innocence of Nina which we see start to fracture as the black swan persona emerges and crosses over into her life. Portman is stunning throughout and her portrayal of Nina is driven home in scenes of self harm and bulimia which are at juxtaposition to her once innocence. Black Swan is effectively a contemporary remake of the classic ballet and the transformation mirrors the characters complexities.
Wether this film is a traditional tale of good versus evil, a social observation or an insight into mental illness, I think it is best to take what you will from the experience. To me it was a harrowingly realistic look at how mental health can decline, shaping a persons view and their interactions with the world. In the identifiable context of visual perfection and peer pressure it is also very relevant to 21st century life and expectations of success.
I have heard reports of the film being dark and depressing but this is too simplistic an argument. The close parallels with the original ballet make Black Swan both beautiful and tragic, like the ballet this film is taking you on a journey.
Obviously the subject matter appears dark but like intelligent cinema you have to look a little bit deeper to appreciate the true enchantment of the characters.
Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers
Mila Kunis as Lily
Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy
Barbara Hershey as Erica Sayers
Winona Ryder as Beth MacIntyre
Benjamin Millepied as David
Ksenia Solo as Veronica
Kristina Anapau as Galina
Janet Montgomery as Madeline
Sebastian Stan as Andrew
Toby Hemingway as Tom
Sergio Torrado as Sergio
Essentially this film has been on the table for over ten years as a basic concept but without structure and a script. Director Darren Aronofsky spoke with Portman over many years about doing this film, having previously studied ballet for a number of years only quitting to take up acting. Portman had already mentioned that Mila Kunis would be a perfect partner for the film.
Portman spent a year in training prior to the beginning of filming working out 5 hours a day. She incorporated ballet for three hours, plus cross training, stretches and swimming - doing a mile every day. The regime was intense and the already petite star lost over 2 stone and became a very competent dancer appearing in all the shots herself. And when she trained for a year, it was exactly that - 7 days a week and 5 hours at a time. Kunis trained with Portman for six months prior to the film.
Natalie Portman is utterly mesmerising as Nina and could have carried the whole film herself. The fluid sense of change as she becomes increasingly more disengaged is truly compelling. Mila Kunis is also excellent as the sultry and provocative Lily and the two have excellent on screen chemistry. A special mention should go also to Barbara Hershey for her role as Nina's psychotic mother who truly menaces as she tries to keep her in a childlike state of innocence. Nina's room is full of cuddly toys and her mum helps to dress her in a way that is uncomfortable if not quite incestuous. Keep an eye out too for Wynona Ryder as the faded primadonna Beth MacIntyre who lives up to her quirky image and injects some real venom into Nina assuming the role of lead dancer.
Portman recently won the Best Leading Actress category at the Baftas for her role in Black Swan and this is entirely justified. Several other categories were also nominated and there are possible wins at the Oscars this year including Best Actress, Best Director and Best Picture.
Visually stunning and beautifully acted, Black Swan is one of the best films I have seen for a long, long time. Don't be put off by the fact that the story is centred around ballet as this is all about inner conflict and stress dynamics. You don't really need to be familiar with the story of Swan Lake either but it's worth a Goole for a better insight. I was lucky enough to see the Russian Ballet perform Swan Lake though it can be inaccessible to those unfamiliar with stories through the medium of dance. It is slightly confusing I admit! The film however is truly excellent and will be part of my collection soon.
Summary: Award winning classic - Excellent