Posted on 12/04/10 09:16 AM
BLACK SWAN is both a mesmerizing and disturbing experience. The film stars Natalie Portman as the struggling ballerina Nina, who is looking to move ahead in her New York dance company. Nina lives at home with her mother, who is a former dancer herself--played by Barbara Hershey. When Nina is selected to play the lead in Swan Lake, she begins to feel the pressure of the spotlight--and when the company's newest dancer Lily threatens to take her spot, it sends Nina over the edge--physically, mentally, and emotionally. This film deals with several themes that are both enlightening and frightening--and with Natalie Portman's performance at the center of it all--there is no doubt she will see an Oscar nomination, if not a win.
As Nina struggles with the brutality of physical dance competition, she also strives for ultimate perfection. This film deals with the ideas of female self-image as we see the young dancer battle with her weight, self-mutilation, and mental illness. As the ballet calls for her to portray a darker side, Nina begins to experiment with the monster of madness deep inside her. There are strong motifs symbolically in this film of blood, black vs. white, mirrors and their reflections, and even doppelgangers. In addition, Nina's mother Erica is living out her own dreams through her daughter--and fighting the demons of insanity as well. Barbara Hershey is at her best as the doting, controlling mother pressuring her daughter to unreachable perfection. As Nina pushes herself further and further, she loses herself completely and the lines blur between her crazed hallucinations and the truth of the competitive world she dances in. We realize that, like Nina, we can no longer trust what we are seeing--fantasy or reality, dream or nightmare...
Darren Aronofsky has dealt with mental illness, addiction, and self image in his previous films. BLACK SWAN plays as a companion piece to the award winning film THE WRESTLER. In that film, Aronofsky dealt with male self image and striving for spotlight. Randy "The Ram" Robinson dealt with drug use, steroids, and competition to stay ahead in the wrestling business. In similar fashion, these characters Nina and Randy depict both the male and female struggle for physical and competitive perfection, as well as a juxtaposition of the low art of professional wrestling and the high art of ballet. Like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, Aronofsky has mixed in madness, hallucinations, and stark symbolism. This film has some very strong sexual content as well as some difficult images of violence and self mutilation. It is a strong portrayal of the duality of good and evil that rests inside everyone. And as the black swan rises in Nina, the madness takes control of her as well as the film. Aronofsky's fourth film is his best to date...and that is truly saying something. If you can sift through the madness and the difficult content, I give a strong recommend to a film that we will all be hearing about during award season.