Without a doubt, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan was the best film of 2010—and I can say that with conviction, since it’s now 2011. As soon as I saw the trailer for this movie, I wanted it, had to have it. (Go see for yourself HERE.) It took two weeks, amidst all the Christmas travel and hubbub, but I finally saw Black Swan last Thursday. And suffice to say I was screwed up for days, obsessing over every nuance of the writing, acting, and music. I continue to obsess, as I write this review, and I will do my best to give nothing away.
Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a sheltered ballerina for a New York City ballet, fixated on getting the lead in the studio’s production of Swan Lake. I’m not ruining anything when I tell you she does. So Swan Lake is about a girl who is turned into a swan. Only love can set her free, but just as the prince begins to fall in love with the White Swan, the Black Swan shows up and ruins everything. Quote from the film, via Nina: “I had the craziest dream last night. About a girl who was turned into a swan, but her prince falls for the wrong girl. She kills herself.”
The metaphorical prince in this picture is played by Vincent Cassel, who is not actually a prince but Nina’s ballet director—a man who uses sexuality to inspire his dancers. The metaphorical wrong girl (or Black Swan) is Lily, played by Mila Kunis.
So here’s the conflict: Nina Sayers is ideal for the White Swan. She’s quiet, pure, and inexperienced in the sexual arena. She can’t quite master the evil, powerful, seductive Black Swan. As Nina strives to find the Black Swan within herself, she begins to find an unexpected darkness that threatens to take over. But hey, it’s just a ballet, right? Right?
I should have known this was going to be a disturbing creep fest as soon as I saw Darren Aronofsky’s name attached to it. He’s sufficiently messed with my mind in such films as The Wrestler and the dreaded Requiem for a Dream. Now, this—what I would call a psychological horror movie, without question. Then, there’s the music. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is epic enough, but add the score by Clint Mansell, and it’s disconcerting: He used some of Tchaikovsky’s original chords but played them distorted and backwards.
Natalie Portman deserves every Golden Globe, Oscar, SAG … let’s just hand her all of them. I was never sure about her until Black Swan. Now, I’m sure: she’s one of the best actresses of her generation. She portrayed childlike innocence, drug-addled paranoia, unbridled sexuality, and destructive madness—all in one film. She’s barely recognizable as the Black Swan, and she even does her own dancing. (PS: if you’re don’t want to see this movie because of all the dancing, stop right there. Sure, it features a ballet background, but this movie is NOT about ballet. Enough said.)
So I’ve been obsessing over Black Swan for days. I’ve read all I can about it. I’ve discussed it at length with friends and family. I’ve even siphoned some of this obsession into my own novel, because I need to master the same discomfort caused by Black Swan in my own work. And you will be uncomfortable, for the whole movie. You will be disgusted, aroused, and terrified. By the end, you may even doubt your own sanity.
Which is what made this movie so overwhelming. Which is why I can’t stop thinking about it. Ask any true artist in your life what he or she fears most, and we’ll all give you the same answer: We are afraid of losing our minds. When we spend each day creating new realities, it’s easy to lose grip on what is real and what is false. Nina Sayers is an example of what could happen to any artist, any day, if he or she were to lose sight of real life. It’s easier than you might think, and it’s something that haunts me at least once a week. Perhaps, this personal fear is why I hesitate to see Black Swan again.
That said, everyone should see it once. It proves the art of movie making is not dead. The art of scriptwriting is alive and well, and true madness can happen anywhere.