Black Swan is a psychological thriller, which delves into the mind of a devoted ballet dancer on the brink of her staring in her breakout role and meanwhile is on the way to a breakdown. Mila Kunis plays Lily, the newest dancer in the troupe who becomes Nina's biggest competition and also her closest confidant. While Nina perfectly dances the white swan, she must also nail the black swan, which is more difficult for the perfectionist. Lily appears to be darker and more free-spirited, often losing herself in the dance, which is what the director wants for Nina as the black swan.
The film was shot entirely with a handheld camera and overall has a dark and raw feel. Oftentimes, films shot with a handheld camera are shaky and distracting, but Black Swan was done in such a way that it never took away from the film. The handheld cinematography added to the movie's dark themes, by reflecting the pressures Nina faced. While Nina admittedly strives for perfection, she isn't perfect, and the use of a handheld camera in lieu of a more stable process reflects how unhinged she really is.
The dancing in Black Swan was incredible. Both Portman, who had some previous ballet and dance experience, and Kunis held their own on the stage, despite being surrounded by professional dancers.
Perhaps the most difficult feature of the film to convey would be the transition Nina makes from the white swan to the black swan. When dealing with the dichotomy of black and white, good and evil, it has to be an evolution, at least in this case. Director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem For a Dream) flawlessly guides Nina's transition from the frigid perfectionist who embodies the white swan into her evil twin, the dark and passionate black swan.
It can be confusing at times whether the action on screen is actually happening to Nina or not, specifically toward the end of the film. Much of the action is psychological, but there are times when the film almost crosses the not-so-distant boundary into horror. Often what Nina sees isn't reality, and what she sees pushes the shock value envelope into the realm of terrifying, such as when she returns several belongings to fading ballet star Beth, played appropriately enough by Winona Ryder.
Black Swan explores a world we don't often see or hear about - the pressures of being a professional dancer. Before she lands the role of the Swan Queen, Nina practices in front of her mirror trying to perfect the Black Swan's dance and in doing so cracks her big toenail down the center. Nina frequently makes trips to the bathroom to purge her lunch, and when her overly dramatic mother, played by Barbara Hershey, buys a big pink cake to celebrate her new role, Nina refuses to eat a piece. Both Portman and Kunis look thinner than normal for their roles, exhibiting the demands that dancing places on the ballerina's bodies. Though the depictions are taken to the extreme, they are still based in a shocking reality.
Black Swan is by far one of the best movies of the year, providing an intimate look at a ballerina both on the edge of stardom and self-destruction with Portman and Kunis both giving outstanding performances worthy of Oscar gold. Black Swan may have had me covering my eyes at times, but I couldn't look away from the beautifully intense mind-bending thriller.
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis,
Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky.