Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Black Swan (2010)

She's a maniac...dancing like she never danced before

Like the "The Wrestler," this is a deeply woven character study that paces as a dark drama with a young woman named Nina (Natalie Portman) at the center attempting to push herself at the expense of personal relationships and her own physicalities when a once and a life time role comes her way. You get an intimate look at the behind the scenes of a ballet dancer, from routine stretches, make-up, feet taping, auditions, music rehearsals, to the make-it-or-break-it competitive inner circle that surrounds it. The bigger the role, it's stress and then some. Some have the strength of character to make it happen, while others let the make-believe character take over too much of their personal lives.

Nina's self-conscious and emotionally fragile when confrontation and criticisms come speeding at her. She ducks, hides and is afraid to express how she really feels in front of others with the exception of her live-at-home mother who is a shoulder to cry on but is overprotective of her to the world at large. To Nina, the world is Ballet and nothing more. It's on her mind when waking in the morning to conversations on the phone and when meeting outsiders. She's a woman who's partly still a little girl due to her tunnel vision and this causes her to cower away and misinterpret actual meanings as something else. She was riding on a thin slope to begin with and now with the role of Swan Queen--where she has to pull off both of the opposites of White Swan and Black Swan on the same stage when it's normally just one--being presented to her she loses all perspective and starts to slowly dream up and hallucinate.

Mila Kunis plays Lily, which represents a wild card amongst the conformity that usually comes from the traditional background of stage dancing. She's the rebellious, spontaneous one that's able to rebound from the unexpected. Nina is a perfectionist who practiced exclusively for the role of the delicate White Swan and now that she has to learn how to also play the dark and seductive Black Swan without a hitch in between characters, she starts to look at Lily's temperamental personality as both an inspiration and a threat due to the Black Swan coming to her naturally instead. Winona Ryder's character Beth--who was a former lead who stepped down--was impressionable to Nina but now can see the after effects of how much it takes a toll. Though at that point she might have traveled too deep on a downward spiral to turn around.

"Black Swan" takes an artful, niche subject and etches a darker shade onto it. There's no glamor here and you have to wonder if anybody is having fun or they're just doing it compulsively due to losing the spark but still having the talent left over. It uses ballet as a backdrop for a character expose and how something can be taken so far without seeing the forest through the trees. With the exception of a few exaggerated hallucinations that nail the point home, the film was subtle and not so direct, though without being vague either due to its progressive nature. A balance was struck without analyzing the character like a garden variety lay-down-on-the-couch shrink session, but rather an unhealthy breakdown that a viewer can see unfolding before their worrying eyes. The flow is gradual, the cinematography only comes with so many effects compared to other modern pictures, and the traditional stage music is frequently used to get the feel and atmosphere of the world they've encapsulated you in. This eventually builds up to a thrilling finale to show the final act of lost innocence during the big opening night that everyone's been anticipating.

Rating: 9/10

Director: Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain)
Stars: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder
Link: IMDB

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