Title: Black Swan (2010)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis
Darren Aronofsky has this incredible ability to make films that play with premises that I would normally not care about. Yet somehow, the way he weaves his tale completely pulls me, and before I know it, voila! I’m hooked! This happened to me with Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (2008). When I first heard that Aronofsky was making a movie that took place in the world of wrestling, at first I was turned off by the idea. I was like what? I freaking hate wrestling! It’s so fake! Yet Aronofsky managed to pull me in with this incredibly personal and introspective story about an aging ex-wrestler trying to do what he loves, trying to recapture his glory days. And there I was, watching a movie about wrestling. And I was completely moved by its honesty and its emotion. Now here comes Black Swan, a film about a ballet dancer. And it happened again! I was like: what? Ballet? Seriously? Still, I’ve come to entirely trust Aronofsky as a director. He has never disappointed me with his films. Ever! Was Black Swan going to be his first one? Or would he wow us again with another amazing film?
Black Swan tells the story of a New York City ballet dancer named Nina (Portman) who really wants to make it. Her dream is to play the Swan Queen in a play called Swan Lake. She tries her best to impress the director of the play (Vincent Cassel) so that she will get her chance. Much to her surprise she is actually chosen! Finally, her dreams are coming true! Now she has to learn to deal with the pressures that come with participating in such a prestigious play. In the play, she has to perform the role of two characters at the same time, the White Swan and the Black Swan. One is innocent, the other more sensual and daring, edgy. The director of the play doesn’t think Portman has enough of an edge to play the Black Swan, so he is constantly pushing her to “let go” to “live” to let the dark side of her soul emerge and run wild. This is Portman’s struggle in the film; should she continue trying her best to be the good girl her mother wants her to be? Or should she live her life the way she wants to live it? Which side will win the battle?
Once again, Aronofsky succeeds in blowing me away. Black Swan, in my opinion is another stunning work of art in Aronofsky’s repertoire. In many ways, it’s similar to The Wrestler. They are both films about the working class, struggling to do what they love. They are both films about someone loving what they do so much, that they’d rather die doing it, then waste their lives doing something else. And they are both very personal stories. On both films, we follow a character closely, to the most intimate moments in their lives. The camera plays the role of the ultimate voyeur, always looming on top of the actors face, or behind them, following their every move. The similarities between both films do not end there. Originally, what Aronofsky wanted to make was one film in which a Wrestler falls for a Ballet dancer. Ultimately, The Wrestler ended up falling in love with a whore (played by Marisa Tomei) and Aronofsky separated that story into two films deciding that it would all have been too much for one movie. So in many ways, Black Swan can be seen as a companion piece to The Wrestler.
Aronofsky once again uses that documentary style that he used in The Wrestler, where the handheld camera is active all the time, following characters around. This story focuses mainly on Nataly Portman’s character, her struggles in trying to make it professionally. This is a girl who loves dancing and wants nothing more then to really make it, she wants to get a taste of greatness, of being recognized and appreciated. What I really loved about it though was that she also has to struggle with all these things that get in her way. The over protective mother, the rivalries with other dancers and her own psychological woes. It all builds up to that climactic moment when she finally achieves her goal, and you are right there with her when she makes it, you kind of get a taste of that greatness yourself. In this way the film was similar to many of Aronofsky’s other films, where events start to build momentum, slowly rising, in a crescendo, until by the films last frames we reach this amazing finale.
The film addresses themes that I wasn’t expecting. Like for example, the over protective mother who doesn’t let her daughter live her life and be herself. And this is really where the film caught me off guard because I thought it was only going to be about the struggles of a ballerina trying to make it, about following her dreams and all that. And it does address these themes, but as it turns out, the film explores a whole other group of themes as well. This is really the story of a sexually repressed girl who is so uptight, so wound up, and so conservative that she hasn’t really lived her life. Everyone keeps telling her to “relax and live a little”. So this is a story about someone learning to let go of all these rules that she lives by and learning to just have a little fun. She is the kind of girl who says she isn’t a virgin, but her shyness when it comes to talking about sex let’s us know otherwise. What I loved most about the movie was how Aronofsky compares the duality between the Black and White Swans in the play with the battle in the ballerinas’ life between being the good girl or the bad girl. That internal struggle is externalized in the play with both of the swans representing innocence and lust. Will she ever transform into who she’s really supposed to be?
The film is very dark, and at times it felt as if I was watching a Roman Polanski film. I make this comparison because like many Polanski films, Black Swan stars a female as the central character and this female is paranoid and unstable psychologically. Aronofsky plays with the notions of Natalie Portman’s character having a double, a doppelganger, so theres always that paranoia of “is someone watching me?” Aronofksy is always questioning the main characters mental state. I loved how he used mirrors on the film to illustrate her mental instability. And though it does feel like Polanskis The Tenant (1976) or Repulsion (1965) at times, it’s also very much a Darren Aronofsky film. I especially noticed this by the way he shot everything documentary style, and also because of how the film works itself up in a crescendo, by the end of the film both music and images have completely taken over. Even dialog falls into second place in the end. The direction, the shots, the editing is flawless.
By the way, I was not at all aware of it, but this “independent” film that comes to us from Fox Searchlight Pictures (20th Century Fox’s indie minded films division) was such a huge event! Well, at least here in Puerto Rico people are going to see this movie by the droves! I had not seen a line like that one at the art house theater in a loooong time! I was trying to pinpoint exactly what it was that was attracting so many people to the cinema to see Black Swan. Could it be the awesome poster? Natalie Portman? Darren Aronofsky as a director? Then it dawned on me, people are coming in droves to see this movie because they have heard that Portman pleasures herself and has oral sex with another woman in it. I guess that’s the main draw for most people. But to those that are going to see it for that reason alone, I can say this: you might be going to see Portman pleasure herself, but you will also be seeing another diamond in Darren Aronofsky’s directorial career. I have to wonder, what’s next for this amazing director?
Rating: 5 out of 5
Vincent Casell and Aronofsky talking out a scene