Black Swan (2011), directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), stars Academy Award winning actress Natalie Portman (Star Wars, Closer), Mila Kunis (Date Night), Winona Ryder (Girl Interrupted), and Vincent Cassel (Ocean’s Twelve) in a film that follows the story of Nina, a ballerina in the New York City Ballet, trying to make it to the top.
Black Swan is a film that follows the story of Nina (Portman), a ballerina in the New York City, who is a very thin and frail woman, who immerses herself in her art. Nina is very timid, isolated, and you can immediately tell that she is dealing with some underlying, inner struggle. Her mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey,) has an eerie calm about her–she serves a half of grapefruit that Nina seemed to struggle, flexing the bony prominences of her shoulder as she to bore into the meaty pulp of the grapefruit. With a bitter mouthful, she smiles at her mother–then heads out the door to begin her role in the competitive world of ballet.
Right from the very beginning, Nina constantly struggles with perfection. So much so, that she is too “technical” of a performer at times. With every bit of her timid nature, it is not surprising that she fits the role of the White Swan perfectly, but her dual role as the Black Swan–the artistic director Thomas (Cassel) has his concerns. Lily (Kunis) is the personification of the Black Swan with her fierce and fiery personality–everything Nina struggles to contain. However–what is evident–Nina’s struggle to balance the conflicts within her causes her to become delusional, and we bear witness to much of her psychological torments as she now has a rival in Lily. These two dancers begin to develop a twisted friendship.
After casting aside his former lead and lover, Beth (Winona Ryder), who role in the film was as pivotal and crucial to Nina–being that Nina once looked up to her as being a the epitome of perfection–Thomas begins to have concerns about choosing Nina as the lead. Her rigidity and handicap of being “too technical” of a dancer prohibited her transcendence in her duality role as the Black Swan. He even went as far as asking her if she was still a virgin–if she had ever been “fucked.” Even suggesting that she “touch herself” to rid herself of her stiffness and anxiety while dancing. This proved to be an arduous task for her as well.
In celebration of her anointment to the lead in Swan Lake, her mother brought home a cake and watched, as that intense gaze Nina had given the cake was as if an enemy was presented before her. The constant struggle to be perfect in everything and this obsessive role gradually took its toll on Nina. The pressure to be the best dancer, to be thin, that even the smallest bite of the cake’s frosting offered at the tip of her overly weaning finger would cause her image to decay–Nina swallowed what was seemingly forced down her throat like the bitter reality of her newly celebrated role as Swan Queen.
Aronofsky successfully chronicled Portman’s slow decent into madness, as Nina struggles to tap into the Black Swan buried deep within her. I was not sure how I was going to feel after watching this film, but I was certain that I would be watching a compelling thriller. However, I was not prepared to endure the tense and emotional battles Portman’s character, Nina, demonstrated in the film. Portman obviously out performed herself, and that role was definitely bigger than her tiny frame could possibly have handled. Relentlessly, she executed her role as Nina flawlessly. The White Swan did eventually become the Black Swan–however, at a grave price.
The film’s graphic depictions of gore showed the fabulous directing skills for Aronofsky. The scenes were directed to make you wince and cringe–and it did exactly that. The sounds, the visuals, and the powerful skin ripping, face stabbing aspects of the scenes were as real as you could get. Black Swan remained beautifully directed and scored from the very beginning, just as it did through to the final performance.
As for the controversy over whether or not Portman performed the dance sequences in the film. Sara Lane stated that only about 5% of the dance sequences featured Portman, which the filmmakers denied. Mila Kunis, who played Lily alongside Portman, also denies the claim by Lane, who was Portman’s body double in the film. Lane informed the Wall Street Journal that she, not Portman, performed 80 – 90% of the dance sequences. However, directory Aronofsky had each dancing sequence counted–139 shots were filmed of the two women performing. Portman was in 111 of those shots.
“If you do the math, that’s 75% Natalie Portman.” Aronofsky in a statement to Entertainment Weekly.
No matter the controversy–the film reflected the broken, torn, and riveting performances by Kunis and Academy Award Winner Natalie Portman. They acted and danced convincingly brilliant in the film–exactly like the wounded birds they were.
Black Swan Blu-ray Disc Features
Metamorphosis: A Three-part Series – A behind-the-scenes look at the film-making process from Darren Aronofsky’s visionary directing, to the physically-demanding acting, to the stunning special effects. Behind the Curtain – An inside look at the film’s costume and production design. Ten Years in the Making – Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky discuss their creative journey, from “preparing for the role” to “dancing with the camera.” Cast Profiles – Roles of a Lifetime – Presented by Fox Movie Channel, the stars reflect on their challenging and rewarding characters.
Black Swan DVD Features Metamorphosis: A Three-part Series – A behind-the-scenes look at the film-making process from Darren Aronofsky’s visionary directing, to the physically-demanding acting, to the stunning special effects.
Image credit: Fox Searchlight – Black Swan