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
The role of the "Jaded Piano Player," the ballet rehearsal pianist who, most memorably, tells Nina that she has been working too hard and she should take a break, is played by John Epperson, a performer who is perhaps better known for his drag persona, Lypsinka. Epperson really did work as a rehearsal pianist for the American Ballet Theatre during the late 1970s and early 1980s, accompanying the rehearsals of such ballet luminaries as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, and Gelsey Kirkland. See more »
In the opening, where Nina is referring to the Bolshoi choreography:
Originally the overture is played with curtains closed; to show Rothbart cursing Odette is a late, American invention from ca 2000. Some ballet companies have picked this up but not the great Russian companies, Bolshoi or Marinsky who stay true to the original. See more »
I had the craziest dream last night. I was dancing the White Swan.
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Darren Aronofsky is a filmmaker who, over the course of five films, has thoroughly explored the various ways in which people can be consumed when their passions become self-destructive obsessions. It seems to be a bit of an obsession in and of itself for Aronofsky, and frankly, I've been with him every step of the way. The best cinema is the kind that makes you feel something, which Aronofsky's work does in spades. Taking up residence in the darkest recesses of the human psyche is no picnic.
Nina Sayers has toiled for years and years in Thomas Leroy's New York ballet company. Having fallen on hard times, Leroy exiles his lead dancer and hopes that a fresh face in the company's upcoming version of "Swan Lake" will renew interest and revenue. Nina believes that she has what it takes to tackle the role of Swan Queen, and while Thomas chooses her for the part, he is adamant about her being able to nail both the pure innocence of the White Swan and the dark, sultry essence of the Black Swan. He doesn't feel that she is yet capable of pulling off the latter, but he suspects that she has the ability bottled up inside. Nina, ever the perfectionist, just needs to let herself go and perhaps explore her sexuality. Unfortunately, she's had to deal with an overbearing mother who has sheltered her to the point of psychological damage. Experiencing what she needs to in order to embody the Black Swan, combined with the pressure of the role and the paranoia over new girl, Lily, possibly being after her spot, may just push Nina over the edge.
"Black Swan" has been cited as a companion piece to "The Wrestler", and in many ways, it is. They even share similar instances of a pseudo-documentary shooting style. However, whereas the latter utilized such a style to create a heightened sense of realism, "Black Swan" takes the approach and creates a claustrophobic hell akin to something like Polanski's "The Tenant". It's a disorienting portrait of the madness that infects many who possess the desire to create art. Nina's sanity is in question early on, and from there, we are kept on our toes in relation to what is hallucinated and what is real. Speaking of being kept on one's toes, we get an up close look at how hard ballet is on the human body. As if the psychological turmoil wasn't enough for poor Nina, the physical toll is just as prominent.
As the ballerina seeking the pinnacle of perfection, Natalie Portman achieves that which her character so desperately desires. Her performance is a milestone, not only in her career, but in acting, period. Every ounce of praise directed toward her is richly deserved. Nina goes through a ringer of emotional changes, be it the sweet, delicate girl she starts out as, the rebellious grown-up Lily unleashes in her or the manic frenzy she's reduced to when things really get out of hand. Portman never misses a beat. When I first heard that Mila Kunis had been cast as Lily, I wasn't exactly thrilled. I'm happy to say that I was wrong about her, as she is terrific here. She made me forget all about her role on "That 70's Show". Vincent Cassel is also fantastic as Thomas Leroy, and his relationship with Nina is one of the film's strongest aspects. He had serious doubts about her, but he believed in her all the same. Enough so that he put his doubts aside and took the biggest possible risk on her. Barbara Hershey is unnerving as Nina's overprotective mother, and Winona Ryder makes the most of her brief role as Beth, the aging star whom Nina replaces.
Matthew Libatique's cinematography is beautifully realized. Combining the raw grittiness of the pseudo-documentary material with the nightmarish imagery of Nina's hallucinations and the elegance of the ballet, the film is a joy to behold. Clint Mansell's music, complete with elements from "Swan Lake", is also amazing, just as much a character as any breathing person on screen. I was disappointed that Mansell didn't have more of a presence in "The Wrestler", so I was happy to have him back in full force with "Black Swan".
Aronofsky is my favorite director to come along in the last 20 years or so. "Pi" was a solid debut, "Requiem for a Dream" is an utter masterpiece (still my favorite film in general), "The Fountain" is an underrated gem and "The Wrestler" is a strong character study. I'm pleased, but not surprised, to say that "Black Swan" is another film that further solidifies his position as a master filmmaker. As for Portman, she doesn't need the "Best Actress" Oscar to solidify how great she is. Besides, after Sandra Bullock "won" last year, they'll obviously give that award to anybody.
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