A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor: a fearsome Bengal tiger.
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
Engaging psychological horror despite not being as "high-brow" as the ballet frame suggests
Esteemed IMDb writer Theo Robertson messaged me the other day about this film and, while I skimmed it for fear of having him influence me in terms of his opinion, I did read that several older people had walked out of this film, seemingly having expected some sort of high-brow film with its roots in ballet. One can understand why because with all the award buzz and the superficial subject matter (ballet) combined with the actress and of course the previous work of the director, this must surely be an intelligent piece to be "appreciated" and "considered". What one wouldn't expect would be a film that, with a bit more gore, could easily be just another trashy horror/thriller that is released on video and has plenty of sex, violence and jump scares to it.
Well, got news for you, this is what Black Swan is – albeit a superior example of the genre. Essentially our lead character struggles to get in touch with her dark side when she wins the lead in Swan Lake, gradually losing touch with reality and/or being hunted by those around her who wish her harm. This manifests itself through some painful scenes of self-harm, imagined doppelgangers, intense sexual discovery, shadowy figures and a domineering mother who keeps her controlling menace under a veil of vulnerability that only falls here or there. It is trashy stuff in a way but it is done very well so that it produces this genre material but does so in a way that feels slightly classy while also engaging more than it would thanks to a brilliant turn by Portman.
And she is brilliant. I understand the mother because of how well Portman plays – this is not a character she has worked on for a few months, this feels like a product of years under the influence of this mother. She is nervous to her core, frustrated by her own inability to be this "thing" that she has spent her life not being – wild, loose, imperfect. Portman nails it and while I don't think it is a brilliant film, her performance is little less than brilliant. In support Hersey is equally as good with less time to do it. The flickers across her face say so much and I was impressed that with so little I was able to understand roughly what had happened in the previous 20 years. Cassel is simplistic but effective in his predatory director turn. Kunis is unbelievably sexual and again she helps the lead role by showing us everything that Nina struggles to find in herself. Ryder is solid in a smaller role. Aronofsky's direction is strong but particularly impressive is the cinematography – the camera flows so well around the scenes (and yet appears in no mirrors). I think he knows he is making a horror movie so, although he embraces the ballet, he doesn't avoid the shock or the build of the horror.
Some have embraced this film as art and a thing of beauty – while others have come away disappointed because that is what they expected it to be but didn't find it. However Black Swan is an effective psychological horror movie that just happens to be set in the world of ballet. As such it is very much a genre movie even if the director etc lift it to feel like more. In particular Portman makes the film – I cannot think I have seen her better and her Oscar (can there be doubt?) will be deserved.
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