My review of Black Swan, originally published on GraduateTimes.com on 27 January 2011.
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) who still lives with her mother (Barbara Hershey) is a fragile-looking ballerina who dreams of making it as the main dancer of the company she belongs to. Her dreams come true when Thomas (Vincent Cassel), the director of Swan Lake, casts her as the virginal Swan Queen. It also means she’s going to perform as the evil twin, the Black Swan, which she has some difficulties with. Her rise to prima ballerina is not without struggle – trying to explore her dark side (Star Wars pun not intended) leads to disastrous consequences, coupled with her insecurities over a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis). The movie ends with a spectacular performance of Swan Lake, but with an unexpected twist.
The soundtrack of the movie is excellent and the haunting rendition of Tchaikovsky’s compositions adds to the atmosphere. The movie is best described as a psychological thriller, although elements of horror creep through (especially if I consider the reactions of the three girls sitting next to me; two of them screamed and one jumped in her seat), during the complete unhinging of Nina’s psyche. The audience is thrown headfirst into Nina’s mind, so much so we’re not sure whether what we’re looking at is real or in her broken mind.
I’ve always liked Natalie Portman, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her acting chops until this performance. Nina started out being an innocent and sheltered ballerina, dedicated to her art…and then her slow descent into paranoia was spot on. The last 30-40 minutes of the movie are Portman’s all the way. Her final transformation, literally and mentally, into the Black Swan are frightening and exhilarating at the same time.
Having seen Mila Kunis on The 70′s Show, I was surprised and enthralled by her feisty take on the potential upstart, Lily. Vincent Cassel plays the dominating, sleazy ballet director with ease. Winona Ryder gives a solid performance with her character of Beth Macintyre, the aging ballerina whom Nina replaces.
I don’t think everyone will like this movie. One could tell Nina was already walking towards a breaking point from the start, and the scenes showing her fall can be disturbing to some. Not all moviegoers would appreciate the sexuality of the movie either. Thomas urging Nina to be wilder, Nina’s and Lily’s bedroom scene…just to name a few, might put some people off as it’s depicted in a raw and aggressive manner.
The dichotomy between black and white, innocence versus cunning, reality versus illusions is rife in the movie. The director, Darren Aronofsky (of The Wrestler fame) has presented Black Swan as an artistically gritty movie, and coaxed show stopping performances from its actors.