Sunday, December 19, 2010

Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan

Directed by Darren Aronofsky 

Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin


Nina -- Natalie Portman

Lily -- Mila Kunis

Thomas -- Vincent Cassel

Erica -- Barbara Hershey

Beth -- Winona Ryder

In The Wrestler (2008), Darren Aronofsky's shaky camera follows the life of a wrestler, who wrestles with living between two worlds: the ring and his own real life. The director's pseudo-documentary style accentuates the awkwardness with which the wrestler staggers through his life and which forms a contrast to the perfection that he needs to stage convincing performances. In Black Swan, too, Aronofsky effectively employs hand-held camerawork to dig deep into the mind of prima ballerina Nina, who also struggles between two blurring worlds. 

After handpicked as the new Swan Queen by Thomas, the director of her ballet company, Nina finds herself faced with newfound expectations and challenges--achieving her mother Erica's frustrated dreams, delivering a perfect performance, and proving to herself and her company that she is, indeed, the perfect Swan Queen. Adding to them is her rival Lily, who seems an ideal fit for the Black Swan. With increasing pressure and her obsession with perfection spinning out of control, the dark side of Nina slowly begins to cloud her entire mind.

While these factors threatening Nina's success on the stage all seem external, it is worthy of note that the story revolves entirely around Nina herself. Her smothering mother, her seemingly taunting rival, her demanding director, and the jealous former prima ballerina exist outside Nina's mind, but as she starts tiptoeing dangerously between fantasy and reality, these external figures morph into and represent the dark inside her. And as the camera shakes its way further into Nina's head, the audience finds itself losing its grip on what is really happening in the movie. 

Women in trouble have been dealt with in so many stories in so many different ways, and Black Swan may be yet another addition to this type of discourse. With the opening dream sequence, this psychological thriller makes it so easy to predict the ending, but it still keeps you focused till its climactic end, a thoroughly dramatic ending appropriate for a classically dramatic film. The extreme closeups, shaky and grainy images, and claustrophobic setting used by Aronosfky effectively create tension and conflict in the movie. Portman's portrayal of Nina certainly deserves positive mention. Equally laudable is Barbara Hershey's performance as an overbearing mother.

(Disclaimer: I do not own this image)

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