She knows the white swan: it’s the black swan…

Black Swan (2010)
Director: Darren Aronovsky
Stars: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, MILA KUNIS, Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey

Before seeing Black Swan, I knew very little about Swan Lake, the famous ballet.  That said, Mr. Aronovsky’s film helped educate me on what goes on behind the scenes of a ballet production.  The preparation and work involved is simply staggering.  Watching it, I had a great deal of appreciation for the artists, choreographers and musicians that participate to bring Swan Lake and similar ballet productions to the stage.  The physical and mental anguish amongst the participants of a ballet is apparently pretty serious fuel for a dramatic fire.

But let me admit to you that I was downright terrified while watching most of this film.  In all fairness, I think it’s important you try and catch the trailer (see Note 1) to Black Swan before jumping into its river of madness feet first while pinching your nostrils together.  When I watched the trailer for the first time last summer, I went from feelings of uneasiness to squeamishness to physically putting my fists in front of my face: when I watched the movie, the same things happened in various regularity for two hours.  If you liked Silence of the Lambs, The Shining and Mr. Aronovsky’s previous titles like The Wrestler (see Note 2)and Requiem for a Dream, you should enjoy this film.  Immensely!

What’s it about?  In short, ballet and mental illness.  The storyline concerns Nina (Portman) and her ambitious desire to be the head dancer of her company.  The director of the company (Cassel) kicks the current star (Ryder) to the curb to make room for Nina.  So, what’s the problem?  Lilly (KUNIS) fresh in from San Francisco’s company could potentially steal the job from Nina.  Why?  Glad you asked – because the next ballet the company is to perform will be Swan Lake.  The White Swan portion of the ballet would be absolutely ideal for a technically perfect performer like Nina: but the Black Swan, to be played by the same dancer, requires powers of seduction and some really elaborate eye makeup, for which Lilly would be much better suited.

Dear, oh dear: this is when things start to go a little bonkers (in a great, thriller/suspense kind of way).  They need Nina to be both the innocent White Swan and the devilish Black one, huh?  Aronovsky wastes no time in convincing us that Nina is losing it.  Like going absolutely mental hospital-Shutter Island-type crazy.  I’m not kidding here – when we start to see rashes on her flesh from Nina’s scratching herself, dark versions of herself in shadowed streets and hallucinations – some of which include Lilly – I think you start to get the hint as to how far off the reservation poor Nina has wandered. 

To say that Portman’s performance is impressive is a gross understatement: Miss Portman worked her tail off for this role, it shows and she deserves the kudos she seems to be getting already.  Bottom line – if you like some of the films I mentioned above and the trailer didn’t make you frown more intensely the more you watched it and adjust yourself repeatedly in your seat, maybe Black Swan is for you.

Note 1 – A convenient link to the trailer:  Black Swan Trailer 

I actually really like this trailer and the poster to the film as an exemplary case of providing the audience with the proper information to decide whether or not they’re interested in the film.  This is a personal perspective, but sometimes I feel movie ads simply show “the good stuff” and do not accurately convey what you’re getting into with a film.  I’m probably not alone in that sentiment, but regardless, if you’re creeped out by Miss Portman’s red eyes and bizarre makeup in the poster, that’s probably a noteworthy warning sign that you wouldn’t enjoy this film!  So go see Narnia 3 in a few days instead!!

Note 2 – the parallels from Black Swan to The Wrestler are numerous, parallels which Mr. Aronovsky openly admits.  I think it’s fair to say that they’re both biographical films.  They both showcase the extreme ends that these performers endure for their sport or art.  Even the camera angle in which we literally follow the main character around seems to be a technique Aronovsky often uses to force his audience to “walk a mile in their shoes.”  In short, I think it would be a fascinating study to watch these films one after the other…

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