Synopsis: A Fox Searchlight Pictures release by visionary director Darren Aronofsky (THE WRESTLER), BLACK SWAN takes a thrilling and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the duplicitous swan queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect.
Release Date: December 1, 2010 MPAA Rating: PG-13
A single shaft of light illuminates a black stage, empty save for a single silhouetted ballerina. The camera approaches and recedes from the figure, the scene achieving a striking intimacy that is at once thrilling, romantic, and nightmarish. It is a scene from Swan Lake, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s tragic masterpiece, and Nina Sayers’ (Natalie Portman) dream role. Nina is a featured player in a New York ballet company whose time for stardom it seems has finally come when the company’s artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) chooses her for the role of the Swan Princess over aging prima ballerina Beth (Winona Ryder). But despite her success, Nina’s overbearing mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), herself a former ballet dancer who gave up on her own dreams to support her daughter’s, insists on maintaining a rigorous training regime with little room for recreation. Nina’s tightly-wound demeanor is contrasted with Lily (Mila Kunis), a new dancer whose offhand sensuality and carefree style marks her as Nina’s direct competition, the passionate Black Swan to her delicate White Swan.
Black Swan is Nina’s quest for perfection, a naively idealized goal that thrusts her even further into a cloistered world of unrealistic expectations, heightened nerves and unhealthy obsession. Director Darren Aronofsky brings the same intense probing gaze to ballet in Black Swan as he did to the world of wrestling in The Wrestler. Nina’s life is ballet and her world is small. She travels only from the tiny apartment she shares with her mother to the dance studio, and back home again. Each environ is haunted by her tireless focus on achieving perfection as the Swan Princess. Aronofsky imbues the regular ballerina’s routine—relentless training, casual purging, and habitual cuts and scrapes—with a horrific, foreboding menace. Nina develops wounds and rashes that may or may not be imagined. She sees herself in the faces of fellow dancers, her reflections taunt her; the only world Nina has ever known seems to conspire against her success at every turn.
The film works best as a psychological thriller, although it aspires to horror movie greatness. Although set in the rarefied milieu of the ballet scene, Aronofsky is committed to marrying high art with low, and the film does not shy away from bald metaphors, brazen eroticism, and outrageous plot points. Some elements are more successful than others, but all feed into Nina’s own self-obsessed paranoia. Characters, and even set dressing, seemed designed solely to serve as reflections of Nina’s inner psyche. Vincent Cassel’s Thomas, for example, seems disappointingly underwritten, although as the film progresses, it is unclear how much of his autocratic single-mindedness is genuine and how much is a manifestation of Nina’s paranoia.
Despite slight reservations about the audacity of its plotting, Black Swan is absolutely one of the best films of the year. A major triumph for Darren Aronofsky, who has long been considered one of the finest filmmakers of his generation, Black Swan establishes him as one of the most gifted and ambitious directors currently working in cinema. Thrilling, moving, titillating, and challenging, Black Swan is an exhilarating cinema experience and an affirmation of why we go to the movies.
Although the supporting cast is uniformly terrific, Black Swan is Natalie Portman’s film. In the role of her career, Portman delivers the kind of searing lead performance, with its emotional reversals and vertiginous highs and lows, which leaves the viewer breathless. Her Nina is jealous, naive, frightened and fierce; Portman excels at conveying both sides of Nina’s tortured duality. Whether being bullied by her mother, intimidated by her artistic director or terrified of herself, Nina Sayers is an empathetic and compulsively watchable embodiment of artistic ambition turned to madness.
Nina’s psychosis is perfectly mimicked by the soundtrack, which features screams, gasps and other unsettling audio cues that both anticipate her mental breakdown and complicate the authorial intent of Aronofsky’s world. For long periods in the film, it is unclear if they are genuinely hallucinatory or tricks being played on the audience, merely horror movie cues meant to shock and discomfort. Aronofsky’s longtime collaborator Clint Mansell integrates Tchaikovsky’s music into a hauntingly beautiful original score. Mansellâs powerful score ups the ante during the opening night performance of Swan Lake, where Tchaikovsky’s themes blend with terrifying audio cues of Nina’s frenzied mental illness. The net effect is one of overwhelming, pulse-pounding assault, visually and aurally, a finale worthy of Nina’s operatic excesses.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Darren AronofskyArnold MesserBrian Oliver
- Producer(s): Mark HeymanAndres HeinzJohn Mclaughlin
- Screenwriter(s): Natalie Portman (Nina)Mila Kunis (Lily)Winona Ryder (Beth MacIntyre)
- Story: Vincent Cassel (Thomas Leroy)
- Cast: Barbara Hershey (Erica) Andrew WeisblumMatthew LibatuqueTherese DePrez
- Cinematographer: Clint Mansell
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA