Monday, 6 June 2011

Film Review: Black Swan

In many ways, Black Swan is the companion to Darren Aronofsky's 2008 Oscar nominated The Wrestler. In a crude comparison, you could say it's something like The Wrestler for girls, replacing said sport of wrestling with ballet. Indeed, the two films are strikingly similar in both their set-up, themes and conclusion. To a great extent, Aronofsky repeats the same formula with Black Swan, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Nina Sayers (Portman) dreams of being prima ballerina in her company's upcoming production, Swan Lake. When director Thomas (Cassel) makes her dream come true, he encourages the innocent and pure Nina to explore her 'dark side' so that she be better able to embody the dual role of Swan Queen and Black Swan. Obsessed with being technically perfect, Nina soon begins to feel both the physical and mental pressures of the role, not helped by the ambiguous intentions of fellow ballerina, Lily (Kunis).

The similarities with The Wrestler are stark. Both are set largely in dejected backstage environments which, in a sense, embody everything their characters are. Both live for their livelihoods and while this is admirable in many respects, it's also a depressingly drab and bleak existence. Both Portman and Rourke's characters go through extreme physical stresses of their respective professions as they push their bodies to the limit. Most of all, both films are tragic character studies about how far people will go to achieve 'perfection'.

Aronofsky certainly has a talent for turning out the best in his actors. Like with Rourke in The Wrestler, Portman, whose performance here won her an Academy Award for Best Actress, will probably be remembered for this more than anything else. While the strain appears more literal and physical at first, Portman carries Nina's transition into mental descent astonishingly as the physical and psychological stresses of the role become symbiotic. The metamorphosis from fragile, over-protected girl to aggressive, rebellious woman, while maintaining her sense of vulnerability, is nothing short of captivating as Nina's dual Swan Queen/Black Swan role manifests itself in her mind's reality.

In spite of the parallels with The Wrestler, Black Swan is sensational in its own right. Portman is excellent, dealing harrowingly with sensitive subjects, particularly allusions to anorexia and bulimia, in unflinching manner. There's a lot about this movie which is incredibly unnerving, but its themes are equally fascinating. As Nina declares in a moment of serenity, "I was perfect".