Black Swan (2010)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
Writer’s Note: During the writing of this article, I have the Original Scores from Aronosfsky’s Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, both by Clint Mansell, playing on a loop. If you are a fan of film scores, then I highly recommend any and all Clint Mansell work.
Also, I would like to take a moment to thank all of you who left comments and suggestions in my last entry and in the 52 Pick-Up thread at forums.panelsonpages.com. I love the feedback, so keep’em coming!
End of Line.
My selection this week is the dark, disturbing, yet seductive Black Swan from director Darren Aronosfsky. Before I get to my review, I would like to say something about Mr. Darren Aronsofsky. The man is a dark genius. Aronosfsky (along with The Dark Knight and Inception director, Christopher Nolan) has shot up on my list of all-time-favorite directors, thanks in part to his ability to continually produce great works of art, yet still find ways to impress the shit out of me with each new film. Now, on to my review.
If you were to gather all of the positive events that take place in Black Swan and laid them out nice and neat, this is what you would get: A dedicated ballerina named Nina Sayers, played by doe-eyed beauty Natalie Portman, finally sees all of her hard work pay off, as she lands the lead role as the Swan Queen in a re-envisioning of the classic ballet, Swan Lake, and along the way, befriends her fellow cast member, Lily, played arousingly by a personal favorite of mine, Mila Kunis, and earns the respect of her director, Thomas Leroy, played by Vincent Cassel. A sweet, tender and inspirational story, right? Wrong, because as is true in all of Aronofsky films, he shows you that what’s on the inside is darker and far more disturbing than you could ever imagine, and not all things have the happy fairytale ending that many moviegoers are looking for.
As with all of his other films Aronofsky’s Black Swan is scored by Clint Mansell, who uses an eerie mix of his original score mixed with in the classic songs that accompany the original score to Swan Lake. There is a certain confidence a director has when shooting his film to know that without a doubt his composer will lay a score to his scenes that will give the audience the exact emotions that he wanted to bring out when shooting. It’s like Scottie Pippen passing the ball to Michael Jordan, you know you can count on him to win you the ball game. When a team like that knows each other s style so well and produce such great work together you cant imagine them working with any one else. Every one seriously needs to get any work by Clint Mansell and after you do let me know what you think.
When one sits down to watch an Aronofsky film, you have to be prepared and understand that you will not have an uplifting , feel-good movie experience. Few directors have mastered the art of emotionally destroying his audience, while still making them love his films as well as Aronofsky has. I love Requiem for a Dream, and while it’s a great film, once it’s over, you feel like balling up in the shower in hopes that the scalding hot water will wash away all of the wrong that your mind has been exposed to. Even in The Fountain, Aronofsky was able to take a beautiful story about an undying love spanning over 1,000 years, and crush you emotionally. Yes, maybe I did tear up a little while watching The Fountain, but I tend to get wrapped up in movies that hit me in just the right spot, or at the right time…so GET OFF MY BACK!
Everything from the opening of the film, where Nina is just a dedicated ballerina hoping for a chance to shine, all the way to the end of the film, the opening night of the re-envisioned Swan Lake, is a provocatively dark journey through the depths of Nina’s delusional obsession of perfection. Striving to be great at what you were put on this earth to do is a quality that we should all want in ourselves, but you can’t lose sight of the line between drive and obsession, or reality from delusion, and Black Swan pulls you over like a DUI checkpoint on New Year’s and forces you to walk down that line. Aronofsky’s films always tend to take you to that dark place that lies deep inside of all of us, whether it be addiction, lost love, or in Nina’s case, the unrealistic chase of perfection, and he slowly rips it out of you and says, “Here, you’re going to watch this for two great hours”.
When we see deeper into Nina’s life, her struggle with perfection is not a sudden thing. Nina’s obsession finds its roots thanks to her mother, Erica Sayers, herself a retired ballet dancer, played by Barbara Hershey. Erica is a Mommie Dearest, stage-mother archetype, pushing the hopes of her failed dreams onto her daughter. The dialogue between the two shows that Nina has battled with issues in the past, and Erica believes that her overly-protective nature is for Nina’s own good. Nina is a grown woman, living with a mother who continually treats her as a fourteen-year-old ballerina. That alone is a recipe for disaster.
While Nina’s upbringing and home life play a pivotal role in shaping her into a gracefully innocent woman, it’s her natural beauty that completes the package of the perfect White Swan, but that is where Nina’s perfectionist tendencies turn against her. The re-envisioning of Swan Lake calls for the lead, Nina, as the Swan Queen, not only to play the flawless White Swan, but also the dark, emotional, passionate flipside to the coin, the Black Swan. It’s in this transition from light to dark that Nina’s obsession for perfection stands in her way of becoming the Black Swan that Thomas needs. During one of the many sexually-driven scenes of the film, Nina is rehearsing a dance number with her male lead, as Thomas becomes frustrated with her inability to let go and feel the moment in effort to seduce her would-be king, as well as the audience. Thomas bluntly asks the male lead a simple question, “Would you fuck her?” The leads answer was an emphatic NO.
It’s a harsh question, but a very important one, nonetheless, and plays as a very key theme in the film. The White Swan represents beauty and elegance, yet is frigid and unable to completely be free in her own body in fear of not being in control in comparison to the Black Swan, a dark, free-spirit, and not afraid to act on her ambitions or impulses at the drop of a dime. As Nina is a natural White Swan, Lily is the embodiment of the Black Swan, even to the point of having black wings tattooed on her back. This parallel between the two serves to fuel not only Ninas’s destructive obsession to perfection but also her new obsession, her transformation into the Black Swan. If Thomas asked the male lead, or any other man for that fact, the same question, “Would you fuck her?”, in regard to Lily, the answer would be “Yes, please.” Thomas sees this, and puts Lily in line as Nina’s alternate, should the star of the show not be able to perform as the Swan Queen, turning Nina’s obsession into paranoia.
Theres a point in film before Nina’s paranoia takes ahold of her where she uses Lily as an outlet of her own inner ambitions to finally let loose from herself and from her mother, in the way a Teacher’s Pet would latch on to the Class Clown. If you have the internet, then you already know exactly where Nina and Lily end up, and if you don’t know, then please see the pic below and RUN to watch Black Swan. Soon after Nina’s first real step into Lily’s world she loses grasp of her own reality, and what started as a proximity infatuation with Lily, turns into a paranoid delusion that Lily is only out to steal her part and will do anything to become the Swan Queen.
Here’s the bottom line on Black Swan, because honestly, I love Aronofsky and could go on for thirty more chapters on why I loved this film. Go see it. Black Swan’s visually stunning tale of the darkness within obsession is as sexy as it is disturbing, with a handful of memorable scenes along the way. You may not leave the theater after watching Black Swan with a warm and fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach, but you will appreciate the work that went into this modern classic. As twisted and dark as Black Swan is, it’s still quite likely you’ll be turned on come the conclusion of your viewing experience.