Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey
It’s no secret that director Darren Aronofsky has a knack for embracing the melodramatic, and in the case of Black Swan, it’s easy to see that this trademark is precisely what makes the film as bold and enthralling as it is. Widely hailed as the quintessential companion piece to Aronofsky’s previous effort The Wrestler, Black Swan once again explores the exceedingly dark depths to which an individual will knowingly go as they strive to be the best they can be within their trade of choice. Whereas 2008’s masterpiece explored the world of professional wrestling in a more conventional manner, Black Swan instead thrusts us into the increasingly competitive New York ballet scene as young Nina Sayers vies for the lead in her company’s update of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, showing us how her one-track mind, overbearing mother and unrivaled drive to succeed take an unfortunate toll on her already fragile psyche. What ensues is a staggering, genre-bending thrill ride that rests comfortably among the year’s best, ensuring that Aronofsky’s brilliance behind the camera and a nearly flawless script have successfully birthed a contemporary masterpiece worthy of such praise.
As the film’s captivating centerpiece, Nina is as perfect as can be. Immature for her age and vulnerable to a fault, it becomes abundantly clear early on that the young ballerina’s drawbacks will inevitably have an undesired effect on her frame of mind and already suffering personal life. This aside, it’s hard to deny Nina’s brilliance as a dancer, and when she’s finally chosen as Swan Queen by the eccentric and oft amoral Thomas, the insecurities that were at least partly subdued prior to this moment come bubbling indiscriminately to the surface. While the film itself is exceptional up to and including the scene in question, this is almost precisely the point where the production transforms itself from traditional melodrama into a frighteningly visceral, psychological and even psychosexual thriller that effectively illustrates precisely what Nina has succumbed to in an effort to pursue her dream.
Aronofsky’s impeccable direction ensures that the film’s pacing remains appropriate as it bounces effortlessly between infinitely captivating dance sequences and Nina’s tragic decline outside of the studio. As opening night draws nearer, Nina’s episodes become worse and worse as her continued yet seemingly unwarranted rivalry with fellow dancer Lily constantly lingers in the forefront of her already dwindling mind. Said episodes manage to accentuate Black Swan‘s terrific visual flair, of which further elevates the film above convention by embracing the aforementioned hybridization of genres to the fullest. What this does is essentially engross us as viewers in an effort to allow us to see and feel exactly what Nina does, thus blurring the lines between fantasy and harsh reality in a way only Aronofsky could.
As adept as Black Swan is in achieving what it most certainly sets out to achieve, a great deal of praise should also be reserved for the astounding efforts of the cast. Portman embodies Nina in a simply unparalleled fashion, flawlessly demonstrating all of her character’s ripe insecurities and embracing the countless mood swings they bring about with tremendous fervor. Taking into consideration her age and previous inexperience, her ability to physically transform herself into a ballerina of Nina’s caliber is also something to behold, and the all too convincing interaction that takes place between her and her fellow dancers is nothing short of breathtaking. Mila Kunis offers up a rather surprising turn as the sensual, uninhibited Lily, Nina’s rival and supposed arch enemy. The chemistry that exists between the two is quite stellar, as are the performances from Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey and even Winona Ryder as the tortured, aging dancer forced into retirement following Nina’s rise to stardom.
All things considered, Black Swan is nothing short of a masterpiece benchmarked by a fascinating script, unique visual flair and a brilliant central performance. Even though Aronofsky’s choice to seamlessly mesh several genres into one emotionally distressing film is questionable, it only serves as a true testament to the director’s intentions to do what he wanted with the material. Effectively illustrating once again the extremes to which a person will go to excel at the one thing they’re irrevocably passionate about, Black Swan is a mind-bending, melodramatic and exceedingly immersive experience that knows exactly what it wants to be and how it wants to convey said identity to viewers in the most involving way possible.