black swat

‘Black Swan’

by Darren Aronofsky

There are two big movie franchises that over the years have made me doubt the talents of those involved, but I have always believed that some of them can be skillful actors when put in the right film. These franchises are Star Wars, which could have easily killed the career of poor Natalie Portman, and Spider-Man, which made me doubt the potential of Kirsten Dunst. But, just as Dunst proved finally to possess formidable talent in the movie Melancholia, so too did Portman when starring in Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan.

Black Swan is a superbly made film with a consistently unnerving tone and a multitude of horrifying moments that, when described, might not sound like much. Were it not for the director’s brilliant interpretation of an actor’s collapsing psyche under the unbearable preassure of a life-changing role, surely a scene involving her getting her toenails trimmed wouldn’t be as disturbing as they are in Black Swan?

Nina Sayers (Portman) lives with her mother (Barbara Hershey) in New York and has aspirations of becoming a great dancer, just like mommy. But what is the role that is tearing the soul of pour Nina asunder? Why, none other than the main part in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, as directed by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), who keeps torturing Nina with demands on better acting and better flow and whatnot. It is, alas, driving poor Nina mad.

Nina Sayers as the Swan Queen.

Nina Sayers as the Swan Queen.

Her madness is worsened by the ominous precense of co-star Lily (Mila Kunis) who is the polar opposite of Nina. Thomas says she lack’s Nina’s technique, but has a certain self-confidence that isn’t to be found within Nina, meaning she can very well play the White Swan, but the Black Swan will simply have to be Lily. After some sexual tension between the two dancers, she finds that Lily’s true intentions may well be stealing Nina’s part entirely, and play both swans herself. Nina’s hallucinations meanwhile get more bizarre as she starts to see herself transform into a gian swan herself. Painful scenes and disturbing sequences ensue.

One might see a few similarities with Aronofsky’s previous film The Wrestler within this film’s plot, which brings me to a fun fact: he orginally intended for the two films to be one and the troubled ballet dancer was going to be the wife of the troubled wrestler. Even though the two films are so radically different in style and atmosphere, it is apparent at times, especially in how the protagonists of both films meet their fate. The Wrestler also included Aronofsky’s trademark skill of making small injuries appear nightmarishly painful. Compare the stapler scene in The Wrestler with the finger-skin scene in Black Swan. Or the scene from The Fountain where Hugh Jackman deliberately pricks his fingers on a pen.

The film is also well-made in how it’s shot, especially in scenes where the camera should be visible in mirrors, but skillfully manages not to be. Great editing, visuals and music also helps, but I’d say that the main attraction for this one is the performances and characters.

Natalie Portman certainly puts her damndest into her performance. She creates a devastatingly sympathetic character and she inspires my new motto “One should never judge an actor by the Star Wars prequels”. Her having smashing set of co-stars certainly helps. One of them is Winona Ryder, whom I must admit I failed to recognise at first. Another is Mark Margolis, who like an Observer in Fringe becomes harder and harder to spot for every Aronfsky film he shows up in.

But it is Portman who steals the show and it is inarguable that she deserved her Oscar and that she needs to be put in a similarily dark and complex role soon enough. Her most recent apperances in film are Marvel’s Thor and – whoop-dee-doo – the upcoming sequel, Thor: The Dark World. I’d say this is evidence enough that she deserves the oppurtunity to once more appear in a film as dark, surreal and beautifully disturbing as Black Swan. Soon, I hope. Soon.

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