A ballet dancer wins the lead in "Swan Lake" and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan - Princess Odette - but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile, the Black Swan.
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Nina (Portman) is a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her obsessive former ballerina mother Erica (Hershey) who exerts a suffocating control over her. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side - a recklessness that threatens to destroy her. Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
I had the opportunity to see Black Swan in one of the 18 theaters that it opened up on this weekend, although I generally do not do so, I was compelled to write a review of the film.
From top to bottom, this film is at the height of what it means to be true art in cinema. The various elements of the film, the mise-en-scene, was so incredibly structured by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky that one need only sit back and admire at the fluidity of his camera movement, or the marvelous hue of colors amidst a film which has it's color scheme largely dedicated to the symbolism of black and white.
The performances where spot on, Vincent Cassel was terrific as the suspicious teacher, whose brilliance and lust for the dancers in his show are both quite reputable, one often beating out the other. And Mila Kunis truly shines in this one, bringing out a side of her many probably didn't know was possible. She is absolutely beautiful and aptly portrays the black contradiction to Natalie Portmans white, a terrific contrast of good and evil. Kunis, however, as many may assume, is not meant to be there to spark a general conflict of good vs evil, but to emphasize the side of Portman that we have not yet seen. A side that will drive her to the brink of insanity to obtain.
And therein lies the true theme of the film, obsession and physical strain over all else. Much like "The Wrestler" we have the main character dedicated to an unappreciated form of physical art. Here, it is Portman's obsession with becoming the lead of the ballet Swan Lake which drives her into madness. You enter her mind as her teacher pushes her to become perfect, pushing her to let go of her fragile White Swan and become the loose and destructive Black Swan. As you follow her through the stages of her audition leading towards a booming finale she becomes less and less aware of what around her is distortion and what is reality. As she loses grip, Aronofsky's ability to depict psychological deterioration shines through.
And make no mistake, this film belongs to Aronofsky and Portman. As stated, Aronofsky captures everything beautifully in frame, his movement of the camera is almost as fluent and beautiful as the very dancers on the screen. His use of behind the head vantage shots has been a bit of a trademark of his, allowing as to see what the character is. And his use of lighting is nothing short of extraordinary. But now comes the true star: Natalie Portman. She blew me away, from start to finish, she displayed her transformation for the sweet girl to the physically and psychologically obsessed, all the way through attempting to embody the white and black swan when necessary, literally trying to become them in her mind, driving her towards insanity in the pursuit of perfection. Words cannot describe Portman's performance here, to say it is Oscar worthy would be a vast understatement, as the depth of her character goes so deep it would nearly be worthy of playing two separate roles. So fragile at time that you fear for her life, and so corrupted at others that you hate her. Acting at it's finest, Portman deserves an Oscar.
All things considered the film is nearly perfect, one of the best dramas I've ever seen, and one that is as iconic and intense as it is horrifying at times. Just to mention a few other things, Winona Ryder, in the small amount of screen time she had, was spectacular, and truly terrifying during particular scenes. And as always, when Aronofsky and Clint Mansell team up, the score is both epic and eerie, somehow simultaneously. The overcasting score of a distorted and intense version of Swan Lake itself brilliantly compliments the atmosphere throughout the film as these two artist have done before. It could nearly work as a silent film, that's how brilliant it is. If you get the opportunity once this film undoubtedly expands to other theaters see it, it's harrowing and at times difficult to watch, but that combination of beauty and horror makes it impossible to turn away.
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