In order to sum up my thoughts on Black Swan you would have to determine what you could based on a blank expression that looked a little like that, mouth slightly more agape. That’s right, I really did just resort to an emoticon to review a film. Unsophisticated response? Maybe a little, but even hours after watching this film and the loss of the visible appearance of that look, the dumbfounded expression is still present on my brain (if my brain could wear an expression of course), with a splash of a “WTF” overtone.
Rising on pointed toe far above the flashy dance films being pushed out in the past few years, Black Swan follows Nina Sayers at the start of her escalating dance career as a ballerina. Following the struggles to outshine the other girls in her dance company Nina is finally giving the starring role of the swan queen in Swan Lake, but it is in the happiest moment of her life that it begins to unravel around her.
To say too much more about the film’s storyline would spoil the shocking nature of this film that is much more than a pretty film about the ballet. On the one hand it has what is to be expected from a film of this subject and as much as I am ashamed to admit it I couldn’t stop thinking about Center Stage while watching. In its simplicity they can be compared for the older ballerinas who have passed the prime of their career, the disgustingly brutalized toes of the point dancers, the incestuous company romances, the pressure for perfection, and all that jazz, but Black Swan takes it one step further by forgetting to take its schizophrenia pills.
Black Swan does not take long following house lights going down to take full advantage of the psychological thriller aspect of the story. Natalie Portman plays Nina, a girl who has not been able to grow into a strong woman thanks to the domineering presence of her mother. Her strength of character is as fluffy as the stuffed animals that still rest around her room, and other than her body the only thing that she has to control of her own is her dancing. As a technician Nina is seen as close to perfect as she can be and Portman does more than make me believe that she was an amazing ballerina, with a lack of editing that would make any action star cry uncle. Though she is a beautiful dancer, Nina is still not confident enough to handle the pressure thrown onto her wounded puppy shoulders and before long her world and grip begin to slip.
In addition to Portman, Mila Kunis, Vinvent Cassel and Barbara Hershey all carry a lot on their plate. At the start of the film just as it seems that the audience can completely sum up each character, layers begin to be added to their performances, slowly making each one more and more multifaceted. Just as with Portman, each actor transforms over and over again throughout the film, giving different incarnations of their characters, from who they truly are, who Nina sees them as, who she fears them to be, etc.
As a psychological film it is never really clear what is happening as the film progresses (remember the facial expression my brain is still sporting) and there are a few visual and audio cues that further confuse the audience long before they even notice what is happening, eventually escalating to some major gross-out moments that compete with some of the visuals of gory horror films. Yet through all the confusion and shock what is created is something truly beautiful that will haunt you long after the credits roll.
Final Grade: A