Interesting. Well, most of you, if living out of France, will have already watched this movie since December, but here it came out in theaters on Wednesday. So for those who have not watched it yet, go watch it and only then read this post, as it may contain spoilers.
After Requiem for a Dream, Pi, The Fountain and The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky comes back to the big screen to present his latest movie, Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis. Expect, as always, a very psychological movie – a thriller, this time.
Black Swan is, first of all, a reference to Odile, the second antagonist character in well-known ballet Swan Lake. She is the daughter of main antagonist evil sorcerer Von Rothbart. He is the one to have cursed Princess Odette into a Swan – the Swan Queen – who is able to recover her human form only by night. In order to break the spell, the Swan Queen needs to find true love. She almost does when Prince Siegfried falls in love with her while seeing her recover her human form. Eventually Rothbart fools the Prince into pledging to marry his disguised daughter Odile, the Black Swan, which causes Odette’s spell to become definitive. When the Prince finds out, he apologizes to Odette. But the damage is done, and so both decide to kill themselves, eventually causing Rothbart’s death as well.
Now that I have spoiled you the real story, back to the flick. Nina – Natalie Portman – is a young introverted talented ballerina working for a prestigious New York City ballet company. She puts a lot of pressure on her, which along with her mother’s overbearing attitude, makes a lot to deal with while competing for the Swan Lake starring role, both the Swan Queen and the Black Swan. She finally gets the role, after being sexually harassed by the company director Thomas Leroy – French actor Vincent Cassel – and “distracted” by the new ballerina, Lily – Mila Kunis.
The whole movie relies a good deal on Nina’s psyche, the way she perceives her environment, people and their actions. There was a very good job done as regards special effects, whether they were made for surrealist effects or to make the movie more real – indeed, cameramen were erased from some scenes’ images, since the way they filmed made them appear on some takes. The movie is complemented by some quite intense scenes involving sex and/or hallucinations, violence, and very, very good music.
Personally, I did not like the sex scenes. I am not that into sex scenes in movies, although I tend to appreciate them when I find them useful for the general plot. But here… I cannot decided whether those scenes have nothing to do in the movie, or if, on the contrary, their presence is all the more justified. Justified because they help reflect Nina’s personality, in all its aspects. And, I must admit, it is quite deranging to see Natalie Portman in such… positions – remember: Mathilda in The Professional, Amidala in Star Wars, Evey in V for Vendetta, Francine in Paris Je t’Aime, Rifka in New York I Love You… This is not the kind of actor I want to see half naked, it is as odd as if it was a member of my family or an acquaintance only known within a specific framework. It may seem prude to you, but that the way it is for me. Apart from that, I do believe those scenes have a lot of intensity, which make the movie all the more strong in that sense, and adds something to the psychological aspect.
Then, the special effects I have already talked about above. They are just awesome, perfectly matched to the purpose of the movie, and as discreet as possible, never to showy. Black and white also have an important role. Obviously Nina wears mostly white, whereas Lily and Nina’s doppelgangers. Thomas’s apartment is composed only of black or white elements, which leads me to think he represents the factor that brings both of Nina’s sides to face each other.
Finally, the psychological dimension. I must tell you, I love psychological movies, especially thrillers – I have not figured out Inception entirely yet, and I love that. Black Swan is all about Nina’s mind. You see what she sees and how she sees it, until there is some element in the story that explains why she was wrong to see or believe this or that. Black Swan is also about Nina’s dark – black, indeed – side, which rises progressively during the movie, first as a dream, then as her doppelganger, and finally as an acknowledged part of her own self. The audience evolves with her in this progression, until she finally kills herself – somehow by accident, go watch it for further details, and sorry if I have spoiled you.
I also believe there some parallelism between the Swan Lake story – which is barely dealt with in the movie, apart from some acts and one or two half-erroneous facts about the story – and the plot of the movie. Nina is the Swan Queen, Lily the Black Swan. And director Thomas Leroy could be Rothbart and Siegfried. At least in Nina’s mind, since she appears to make all this up. For one thing: she is both White and Black. The Blackness she sees in Mila is nothing but her own.