Before watching this movie, like most of the ones that are propelled into the 'Oscar' circle, I avoided any reviews. With such an all star cast ensemble it was bound to be one of the most talked about films for 2010/11. I had been watching trailers and clips from GeekTyrant since October 2010, building up an image in my head of the general story line and Natalie Portman's ballet dancing. However, over one month later I'm still deciding on whether it was a good film or whether I just liked it because I enjoy the ballet.
The film begins with protagonist Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) dreaming about her favourite dance sequence from Swan Lake where the white swan (Odette) is being tricked by the evil Rothbart and the black swan (Odile). This dream instantly sets the tone of the film and the underlying themes which are approached later on, like growing up, sex and competition. These are all reflected through the character Nina - a young and insecure ballet dancer in the New York City Ballet Company - and her overbearing ex-ballet dancer mother.
The role of the 'Swan Queen' is a prized one above all others, a heavily competed character to play and the announcement by Director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) of his 'Swan Lake' production sparks the appearance of some well-known ballet stereotypes. Nina and other ballet dancers all idolise the eldest and most famous of the ballerinas Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder), a woman who is being retired by Thomas as he believes the company needs a younger and more attractive mascot. Naturally, Thomas chooses Nina for the role of the 'Swan Queen' because of her millimetre perfect performance of the white swan's dance and her beauty. However, he is apprehensive of her embodiment of the black swan which is a more raw and passionate role. Thus, he sets Nina the task of masturbation so that she will relax in to the role. But, Nina's competition and part inspiration for the black swan's personality is reflected through the character Lily (Mila Kunis), who is a much more confident and sexual being than Nina, and therefore much more suited to the role of the black swan. As opening night is on the horizon Nina becomes more stressed and insecure about her performance, she begins hallucinating, self-harming and obsessing over Lily and her idol Beth. All these problems are further exacerbated by her crazy mother.
Darren Aronofsky's filming of 'Black Swan' is clever because of his portrayal of the movie as a psycho-sexual thriller, rather than a depressing drama. However, as the film progresses Nina's behaviour becomes more humorous than daunting, it even borders on ridiculous which I am sure was not the effect Aronofsky wanted to achieve. This is particularly obvious in the scene of the 'Swan Lake' opening night, where Nina comes face to face with her rival Lily and stabs her with a mirror piece before her performance of the black swan.
Portman's performance of the black and white swan was better than I expected, after all, she trained for ten months prior to filming and her commitment to the role has been outstanding; she produces a surprisingly graceful and real performance. But, Aronofsky's reliance on upper body shots only places more emphasis on Portman's technical shortcomings which have been thoroughly criticised by the New York City Company's current 'Swan Queen' in the Sunday Times Culture magazine.
Generally, it was an aesthetically pleasing and watch-able film with great performances from Kunis and Portman. It hits a wide audience range because of its cast ensemble and I am sure that the public will now be more motivated to watch ballet at their local theatre. So, if you have not been see 'Black Swan' yet, you are missing out.