24. Black Swan (2010)

Painful perfection

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder

Striving for absolute perfection is a consuming exercise. So is ballet. The physical pains, the hours of practice and the desire to communicate emotion and art to a wine and cheese tasting crowd can build up a lot of pressure.

While Centre Stage was about healthy-minded young ballerinas, Black Swan is an intensely dark and visually harrowing film that funnels the performative nature of dance through the eye of the camera in order to play out a psychological tragedy.

Losing your mind pays off if you get to be Swan Queen

Nina Sayers (Portman) has landed the part of the Swan Queen in her ballet company’s first production of Swan Lake. But as she is required to perform two roles – that of the pure and virginal White Swan and the evil Black Swan – Nina’s perception of her life, her relationships and her dedication to ballet becomes warped in a nightmarish experience that digs into darkly suppressed regions of her psyche.

The performances in Black Swan are exceptional, largely due to the fact that it is written and directed with a sharp knowledge of when to be subtle and when to be strikingly shocking. We all know the pressures and pains of being a professional ballerina thanks to movies. And if you don’t watch movies, 1. you should and 2. I’m sure you can guess what kind of physically and mentally strenuous elements come with being a graceful dancer. But the way in which Black Swan deals with these commonly known and potentially predictable ideas is what makes it incredibly original. For instance, Nina has a burdensome relationship with her mother. But unlike most dance movies that present the same tight-lipped mama who want their daughter to live out their own unfulfilled dreams, the strained relationship between mother and daughter are represented with a fragile loving and caring relationship that borders on childishness and this incessant desire to please. Something of course, that essentially breaks down.

Black Swan is a wonderfully layered film that begs for interpretation and thought as the viewer watches. Very much like dance. It tells a story, but rather than just telling us straight out with the same predictable quips, it lingers, shocks and dramatically sweeps in directions that we don’t expect.


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