Black Swan

Directed By: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, and Winona Ryder

There's a thin line between genius and insanity.  Ultra-talented people are often really screwed up.  In the arts and entertainment, many of these folks are like supernovas.  They briefly shine brighter than anything or anyone before them, but all of a sudden, they're gone too soon.  Their personal issues take center stage, and they get the better of them.  Just think of iconic figures such as Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson, what they were, and what they became.  Though these big names are the best examples, personal troubles have plagued many, many talented artists and entertainers.   In Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, we get a portrayal of a dancer plagued by a host of mental issues.  Her brilliance on stage goes hand in hand with her mental unraveling.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a dancer for a ballet company in New York.  She lives with her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), who is a bit overprotective of her. Sayer’s dance company is preparing to open the season of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.  When director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) forces his principal dancer Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) into retirement, he begins looking for a new lead for the company’s latest production.  Nina auditions for the part and lands the lead role for Swan Lake.  Meanwhile, newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) gets the role of Nina’s understudy.  As a perfectionist, Nina’s ideal for the part of the White Swan, but her dancing is too rigid for the Black Swan.  According to Thomas, she needs to lose herself in the role.  Nina does eventually lose herself, but she loses a little more than Thomas expected.  She becomes paranoid and begins to hallucinate as she believes her understudy Lily is trying to steal her moment in the spotlight.

Director Darren Aronofsky considers Black Swan to be a companion piece to his 2008 film The Wrestler.  If that's the case, Black Swan is certainly the darker twin.  The film is inextricably linked with music and dance in a very dark way.  The music of Tchaikovsky is key to building a bleak, ominous tone throughout the film, while the dance is far more personal to the character of Nina.  There’s both a White Swan and a Black Swan within her, and her dancing adds meaning to this in a very profound way.  The White Swan is the innocent, scared young adult who depends far too much on her mother, while the Black Swan is an alluring, passionate creature who’s willing to do what it takes to stay in the spotlight.  I personally enjoyed the Black Swan in Nina a whole lot more.

After the film's release and massive success, there was a controversy over who was actually dancing as Nina in the movie.  Natalie Portman's double wanted more credit for her work.  Frankly though, I don't give a damn whether or not Portman performed every single dance move in Black Swan.  Regardless of the work done by the double, there are some things that Portman inevitably had to do.  She did have to learn some ballet for the role because she was going to have to do at least a few moves while she acted her ass off.  Her performance is absolutely mesmerizing.  She owned the role of Nina.

Watching Black Swan is like watching a train wreck.  You know that Portman’s character Nina is crazy and that the movie is not going to end too well for her, but you just can’t help but watch every moment of it.  To get to that level of genius on stage, Nina has to be at her absolute worst.  As her darker half comes out, paranoia and hallucinations take hold of her.  She is certifiably cuckoo.  Watching her as an insane wreck is some great entertainment though.  This powerful psychological thriller unquestionably deserves a sober rating.  With Portman’s dynamic performance, Aronofsky has crafted a masterpiece.