Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Mark Heyman (screenplay), Andrés Heinz (screenplay), John McLaughlin (screenplay)
Stars: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel
Nina Sayers (Portman) has a dream of dancing in the prologue of Swan Lake as the white swan queen. She tells her mother who seems interested but not overly enthusiastic. After breakfast Nina heads off for ballet rehearsals where Thomas Leroy (Cassel) will be selecting his new queen for his latest production, a more visceral display of an old tired classic. Nina wishes to be picked as Leroy slowly wanders around the floor selecting dancers.
Naturally Nina gets selected to play the queen, something that not everyone within the company is pleased about. This has come about due to Leroy’s old queen, Beth (Ryder) retiring, or being retired which leads to bad blood between old and new queens. This is when Leroy picks Lily (Kunis) to be Nina’s reserve, something that also does not go down well with Nina as it would seem Lily is after taking the role for herself, which does not help Nina’s stress levels, which are becoming extremely detrimental to Nina’s health.
Nina strives for utmost perfection but dances with no passion or emotion. While striving for this perfection in her dancing, she never really seems to actually be enjoying her craft. Leroy, obviously wanting more from Nina, believes her to be the perfect white swan, but demands that she let go and free herself in order to capture the passion of the black swan. Add in a dominant and slightly creepy mother and Nina’s mental state degrades further and further to the point of madness and self-destruction.
Now I found this film rather difficult to watch and stay with. Despite being a huge fan of Aronofsky (The Wrestler is one of my favourite films) I was never really fully immersed into Black Swan as much as I was expecting to be. I’m unsure if the ballet backdrop was the problem, the script or something else. I’m also not sure if the film was more about Nina’s mental state or a documentary about the trials of being a ballet dancer and the stress and sacrifice one must go through to get to the top, not unlike any other dedication.
I also found certain aspects of the story line to drag along, be played out for too long. At one point I was actually urging them to get on with it in my head due to this. I personally feel Aronofsky peaked with The Wrestler and I had high expectations from this film also which were sadly not meant. Direction was great as one would expect by now from him, but everything else just seemed lacking slightly compared to his earlier work.
I didn’t think the script was the strongest either, an area usually very tight in an Aronofsky feature. Whether this had anything to do with the numerous re-writes, or that this tale was kind of spun out of The Wrestler itself I’m unsure. The acting in the main is very solid and Cassel is always worth watching, but there are no real stand out performances on view (despite Portman’s Oscar win). Naturally given the films backdrop, the classical score is simply beautiful.
Aronofsky (much like other directors) has his legion of fans that will defend anything he makes, and as mentioned previously, I have loved all his prior features, but this one did let me down. A beautiful piece of art to watch indeed, but one that seems just a little disjointed and over symbolic in its presentation and story. A solid film but not to Aronofsky’s previous standards.
The Sage’s Rating: 7/10