Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan is an intense, haunting film that will portray ballet in a much harsher light than you ever thought possible. Natalie Portman earns every ounce of her Best Actress Oscar as Nina Sayers, a young woman obsessed with becoming the lead in Swan Lake. Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel and a few others turn in outstanding supporting roles, but this absolutely Natalie Portman's movie and her performance features the actress at her finest.
We're all familiar with the stereotype of a woman basically hurting herself in order to succeed. Men do it too, with steroids and what not, but with women it's always much more tragic, such as models starving themselves to look thin. What Nina Sayers goes through in Black Swan is so much more than anything we're used to. She's in constant physical pain, with broken nails, scratches on her back, bruised and swollen toes. In every other scene, she bleeds, and it's all for the sake of being a better dancer. But her physical problems pale in comparison to her mental anguish, which not only drives her behavior, but also the film.
Her mother doesn't help. She was once a dancer, but as she reminds Nina, she gave it up to become a mother. Because of this, she displays an obsession much stronger than that of her daughter. I never could decide whether Nina actually wanted to dance professionally or not. As far as I can tell, she doesn't know either. This is all she knows and it's likely all she's ever known.
The film chronicles Nina's breakdown, which is not an easy thing to watch. As the line between reality and hallucination becomes thinner, the impulse to look away grows stronger. What makes it all the more painful is how visibly frightened Nina is of what she's becoming. The worst part? Nobody cares. Her mother feigns compassion but is offensively transparent. The director of the play, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), seems pleased to see Nina's broken emotional state, convinced it will help her performance.
Like Aronofsky's earlier film, Black Swan displays the lengths someone will go to when desperate enough. Randy "The Ram" Robinson, while he had demons of his own, was not as disturbed as Nina Sayers. But he was willing to hurt himself for his craft. Aronofsky's direction is so personal with these characters that we can better appreciate the terrific performances that are being given. And while I can appreciate a director who gets in close with an entire ensemble of characters, I do prefer the focus of having one leading voice, being inside one mind and viewing the rest of the characters through those eyes.
Black Swan is an intense film. I said that in the opening paragraph, but it's something to be reminded of in closing. It absolutely shook me to the core, thanks to it's beautiful imagery, Aronofsky's intimate directing, and Portman's dedication to the role.
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