Black Swan is a psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, a dedicated ballerina who is a perfectionist. The company Nina works in decides it wants to do a bold new production of the ballet classic Swan Lake and she desperately wants the lead of “the Swan”. Nina has grace and agility and makes beautiful lines with her movement but the company’s snide director played here by Vincent Cassell thinks that Nina is not capable of pulling off the attitudes of the other side of the swan. This particular production of Swan Lake requires a ballerina to play the dual role of the white swan and the black swan. The white swan is graceful and elegant and innocent in movement. The black swan practices complete abandonment and focuses on none of the ballet techniques Nina has mastered over the years. Nina does get the lead in Swan Lake but is having extreme difficultly accessing the Black Swan’s nature and we as an audience are wondering what will happen when she does.
This film was directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin. Darren Aronofsky is famous for having directed the 2008 Oscar nominated film The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke. In that film, the later life of a very famous wrestling star is examined. In this film we were allowed to watch someone slowly reach their breaking point because they could no longer be what people expected them to be and it was too far out of their comfort zone. The theme of the film is really the frailty of perfection and what it can do to us psychologically if perfection is constantly expected of us. This theme was previously explored in The Wrestler with the only key difference being that in this film we get to see the main character slowly psychologically break down as she is struggling to master the duality of the white and black swans respectively, whereas The Wrestler’s psychological breakdown in the film is inherent and implied. Natalie Portman does stellar work here as Nina Sayers because as I was watching the film I was able to see her go through every emotional crisis. What makes this such a fascinating and nail biting experience is shown not just on Natalie’s face but how she reacts to the environment around her and the slowly creeping feel of unrest and general uneasiness she feels as the picture progresses. In the supporting role of Lily, Mila Kunis embodies everything Natalie Portman’s character is not. Lily is a ballerina wild child with confidence, sex appeal, frailty, and wit. I think that having the human opposite of Nina is what truly gives the film its strength and allows the audience to make comparisons between the two characters as we watch Nina fall apart.
This film is not one that people should go into on a whim. There are some truly interesting characters in this film and they can be quite scary. I think if you are thinking that this will just be a movie about a ballerina who can’t handle the pressure of performing that you won’t be interested in this film because I believe the film speaks to more than just that aspect of the character. This film deserves an audience because of the brilliant work done by the actors and the unforgiving dark tone. If it’s true what they say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, then it may also help us foster a better understanding of ourselves or at least it did in Nina’s case.