Monday, January 17, 2011

Black Swan

Black Swan is not your typical dance movie. The audience in not presented with the beauty and grace of a ballerina as she performs on stage. Instead, director Darren Aronofsky thrusts the viewer into the tormented psychosis of the dancer as she loses herself, and her mind, as she transforms into her character.

To understand the storyline of Black Swan, it is imperative to be familiar with the classic Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake. The premise is simple enough; a beautiful girl is transformed into a swan and only true love's kiss will set her free. But her lustful and jealous sister, the Black Swan, swoops in and seduces the prince who would have broken the spell for the White Swan. The White Swan, seized with grief, tragically ends her own life and ultimately finds freedom in her death.

The plot for Black Swan parallels that of the classic ballet. Beautiful Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) has been selected as the new prima ballerina for her company after the incumbant Beth (Winona Ryder) had been gracefully forced out due to age. Nina is regarded as the most technically sound dancer within the company and is regarded as the perfect dancer to represent the White Swan. But the company director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) needs the lead to play both the White and the Black Swans. Nina simply dances with precision, not emotion, and needs to lose herself in order to portray the Black Swan. This proves easier said than done, thanks to the tumultuous relationship between Nina and her mother (Barbara Hershey). A former dancer herself, Ms. Sayers shielded her daughter from every distraction in order to essentially create a perfect ballerina.

The film is predictable, as most dance films tend to be. Tension between Nina and Thomas gives way to the arrival of a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), making the threat of replacement all too real. Lily embodies everything that Nina is not, which adds to the imminent crisis building inside the head of the White Swan. The rivalry between the two dancers morphs into a twisted friendship of sorts, which aides Nina in abandoning the oppression laid upon her by her mother. As Lily represents the anti-Nina, their relationship opens the door for Nina to get in touch with her dark side and transform into the Black Swan.

Black Swan displays flashes of Aronofsky's previous work The Wrester, in which the main character immerses themselves in the perfection of their craft so recklessly that their lives ultimately end in ruin. As with The Wrestler, Aronofsky's over-the-shoulder, shaky camera work is able to put the audience inside a tormented psyche to truly experience what the characters are experiencing. The audience is also subjected to a dance along the line that separates reality from the subconscious so that when the film is reaching its climax, the line is so blurred that it becomes difficult to deduce what the truth is.

As with many classical ballet's, Black Swan, is summed up in a dramatic third act. The juxtaposition of dreams and reality, as well as the parallels between the film and the ballet, conclude in one dynamic whirlwind of passion. Much like the White Swan, Nina finds herself trapped within a prison, desperately fighting to free herself. Tragically, it is suggested that there is only one way to escape, one way to become free, one way to reach ultimate perfection. It would be unwise to question exactly what happens. To do so would simply blur the line between dream and reality even further.