By: Taylor Herring
In Director Darren Aronofsky’s fifth film, he successfully transforms a typical ballet story into a risque psychological thriller (and has the Golden Globe nominations to prove it). In comparison to his previous films, Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Wrestler, Black Swan appeals to a much larger audience. While Black Swan might seem limited by its ballet-centric plot, it raises interest from young and old, men and women alike (let’s hope not only old men and young women saw its value). While women love the film’s stylistic similarities to Tchaikovshy’s Swan Lake, men love its psychedelic approach and, let’s face it, its not-so-conventional love scene. Aronofsky also shows his knack for casting; he could not have pinpointed a better main character and symbolic “white swan” than Natalie Portman. Mila Kunis proved that she was also expertly selected, leaving critics to describe her performance of Portman’s supporting actress as effortless, superb, flawless.
Considering their parts, Portman and Kunis had to develop a unique relationship both on and offscreen. Because audiences were so enthralled by the promiscuity of their… intimate scenes, Portman states, “Since it’s me, people are shocked. I see the value of a good girl persona, but it’s so easy to subvert it occasionally.” Luckily, the actresses are close friends offstage, making the filming of the scandalous scenes less awkward. The brief love scene (hallucination, rather) was not the only struggle for the cast; both Kunis and Portman lost a significant amount of weight to fit the part of a dreamer battling the struggles of the all-but-wonderful world of dance. Through extensive dieting and up to eight hour bar routines, both actresses lost over 20 pounds for the film. Training like a professional ballerina may have seemed impossible for most starlets, but Portman handled the challenge with poise, as she has been practicing dance since she was only four.
Nina Sayers’s (Natalie Portman) transition from innocent, dependent “mama’s girl” to drug-using, unhinged rebel begins with her dream: to dance the part of the white swan in Thomas’s (Vincent Cassel) version of Swan Lake. Nina pledges to do everything in her power to be cast, eventually leading to her demise. Her exploits include bulimia experimentation, repressed-desire, manifest drug use, and (what kind of psychological thriller doesn’t include…) a developing touch of mental insanity. The real conflict, however, arises when Lily (Mila Kunis) moves to New York to dance for Thomas’s company. An effortless dancer and natural beauty, Lily possesses what Nina (initially) lacks: promiscuity. In order to be cast as the prima ballerina, a dancer must master not only the purity of the white swan, but also the carnality of the black swan. The nature of the film shifts at the conflict from a comfortable rivalry to a self-harming, hallucinogen-induced survival of the fittest.
After four Golden Globe nominations, five Oscar nominations, and a title of Best Actress for Portman, Black Swan has topped box office charts for the past two months. Portman’s flawless features and glittering exhibition make for an unforgettable picture. From the first pirouette to the final hallucination, Aronofsky’s Black Swan provides everything a viewer could want from a “ballet movie.”