Black Swan Review
Every once in awhile there is a mainstream film that will leave void an explanation of what is happening, where the actions speak for themselves to progress the storyline, and where the viewer is left bemused and perhaps teetering on the verge of distraught. A film that can evoke this through imagery and a lack of summary through character dialogue is the instigator to the conscious mind being coerced to investigate the possibilities of that story’s reality. Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a reassuring indication that serious Hollywood productions can still resonate in the abstract over the tangible and encourage the audience to interpret the story for themselves.
Nina Sayers, (Natalie Portman), daughter of a retired dancer infatuated with her daughter’s success and image, receives the lead role in Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Swan Lake, a role that requires her to play both the White Swan and her evil twin, the Black Swan. Her director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), believes that the innocent, quiet and reserved Nina is perfect for the White Swan but cannot let go of herself to play the seductive and evil Black Swan. The only person standing in your way is you. Lose your self, he tells her. He pushes her to delve into her dark side by making sexual advances at her, telling her to live more and encouraging her to experiment with her own sexuality.
Nina lacks a life outside of the ballet and lives with her Mother, Erica Sayer (Barbara Hershey). Ms. Sayer idolizes her young woman daughter in a state of permanent childhood and imposes her own wishes on Nina’s need to uphold perfection in her art. Nina’s conscience is further stressed when Beth (Wynona Ryder), the former Swan Queen, retires from the ballet and is injured in a car accident. Nina is also intimidated by another student, Lily, (Mina Kunis), who at the same time befriends her and entices a dark side of Nina to the surface.
This darkness prepares Nina for her role as the Black Swan but at the same time beclouds her in increased hallucinations and paranoia, much of it concerning Lily. The mental pressure begins to unravel Nina as she delves deeper into her role and draws closer to the performance date.
The film builds suspense steadily through an almost constant soundtrack and through Aronofsky’s attention to the cut. He experiments with different windows in which to cut to a new scene sometimes in the midst of a character motion and beginning the new scene already in the movement of another action. He’ll cut as suspense is building in a scene and take us to the next while carrying the wave of that previous emotional apprehension.
Aronofsky, partnered with cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, ensure nearly every cut goes from event to event so that we stay within Nina’s perspective. The few transitions that do exist between events entail a documentary style, following-cam directly behind Nina’s head and upper body, an almost dream-like in-motion view.
Nina’s unstable personality comes across early in the film and is displayed throughout the duration. There are double images, reflections, and motion in portraits of Nina painted by her mother. This may bring into question the duality of Nina’s true nature, whether she has a hallucinatory self, perhaps a double self, a light and dark side that holds the one self we believe exists in balance.
It is the immersion in Nina’s perspective that Aronofsk’s style provokes that brings the viewer to question what is real and what is hallucination. It unfolds from Nina’s point of view so the audience must search for clues within the story and the other characters to determine any potential truth. This style of filmmaking challenges the viewer to make their own decisions and search within their own psyches and interpretations of our reality in order to uncover the truth behind Nina’s reality, which may very well represent the trailhead to the path of that remote search we all seek.