Black Swan appears to focus on a dedicated ballerina whose obsession for perfection drives her beyond reason. While billed as a psychological thriller, Black Swan comes across instead as a dark overindulgence by director Darren Aronofsky. It’s basically a distraught mess.
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), an insecure ballerina who somehow ended up in a New York City ballet company, longs to play the lead dancer in “Swan Lake.” Even though the company’s prima ballerina, Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder), seems more than adequate to play the role of the Black Swan, artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) plays a game of who can please the director more to land the role. Teasing his young ballerinas with indecent proposals, he holds their future in his hands – and only the ones daring to cross inappropriate lines have a chance to compete for the coveted role.
With Beth cast aside, Leroy has his eye on the delicate and beautiful Nina, until new sexy and talented Lily (Mila Kunis) joins the company. Lily seems determined to take the Black Swan role away from Nina. If the pressure to hold her own isn’t enough, Nina is also dealing with a domineering mother (Barbara Hershey) – one so officious I asked myself many times why Nina would stay with her. She hinders and berates Nina at every turn, treating her like a five-year-old, which soon has Nina suffering hallucinations. How could any professional excel under these circumstances?
Because Lily is so resolute about taking Nina’s role, she befriends her, even going so far as to get her doped up, drunk and then seducing her. Or is this just another of Nina’s many hallucinations in which the audience must decide whether it’s “truth” or “fiction.
Barbara Hershey & Natalie Portman
Aronofsky’s films seem to thrive on traumatized lives and the dark paths those lives take. Most of his films I refer to as therapy rather than as movies to watch, especially for viewers who prefer entertaining films. I do think he did well with The Wrestler by motivating Mickey Rourke to go the distance in his portrayal of a troubled washed-up wrestler. But I can’t buy Aronofsky’s comparison of that film to Black Swan. “The two films are tied together by themes of bodily extremes, souls in turmoil and by a filmmaking style that pulls the audience inside the characters’ fascinating inner worlds,” he states in the production notes. Frankly, Nina’s inner world is a train wreck, and I was pulled in the opposite direction while watching it.
By the third act of Black Swan, the story becomes so dark – as well as predictable – that I felt sorry Portman had to endure such a physical ordeal to get ready for this role. No doubt she’s put her heart and soul into portraying Nina. However, watching the horror undertones of this movie involves choosing to watch something akin to the drug-crazed world of Requiem for a Dream (also an Aronofsky film) vs. Robert Altman’s ballet movie The Company. I choose the latter.
Photo credits: Niko Tavernise / Fox Searchlight Pictures