Jan 10, 2011

[Movies] Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan (2010)The world of ballet and professional dancers has always been fascinating. It's one of the older arts that continues to survive today despite all the changes in our cultural landscape and it tends to draw the same kind of people for that moment of perfection. A lot of the performance arts tend to be this way and it either makes us or breaks us when placed in the situation.

I remember my sister's own ventures into the ballet world when we were much younger. It was your classic childhood image of your sister getting into ballet and you getting into karate (or in my case, karate-do to be specific). We attended her recitals and she eventually graduated into her toe shoes. We'd go to practice every weekend and I'd help her break in her new toe shoes every time she had to change. The life of a ballerina is never easy and I know I only got a very quick glimpse of the whole world beyond the curtain.

This movie tried to capture some of what the ballerinas go through with a darker twist to things. It's not even easy to try and figure out the precise genre for this movie since it's not just some dance flick or something shallow like that. And that's just part of the beauty of the whole thing.

Black Swan is at the very least a drama but with very strong psychological thriller undertones to it. The movie was directed by Darren Aronofsky, who also directed Pi and The Fountain.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a dancer in a prestigious New York ballet company. As is the life of a ballet dancer, she is in constant competition with her peers for roles in the different shows, the latest being a unique interpretation of Swan Lake. The director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) has decided that the roles of both the White and Black Swans will be played by the same dancer, thus adding a greater challenge to things. He finds Nina to be perfect for the role of the White Swan but does not believe she has the necessary passion and edge for the role of the Black. On the flip side, Lily (Mila Kunis) seems more suited as the Black Swan and thus the two become top contenders for the role.

Natalie Portman & Mila Kunis Lesbian Kiss from...Image by LesMedia via FlickrEventually Nina gets the part but is continually challenged by Thomas for her to find the Black Swan within her and learn to "lose herself" for the role. As rehearsals go on, Nina begins to experience increasingly disturbing hallucinations including a strange rash on her shoulder blades that seems to be caused by her scratching it. She also becomes more and more fearful of Lily, who is now her understudy, and the possibility that she's trying to undermine her and take over the role of the Swan Queen.

The trailers did present some of Nina's disturbing visions and hinted at the darker side to things. Despite that, I still sort of expected something closer to movies like Centerstage and Fame and was gladly surprised that this wasn't the case. Instead we got a movie that was disturbing and at times outright scary as Nina's obsessions continued to drive her.

Major credits need to go out to Natalie Portman for her performance since the success of this movie really rested on her shoulders. The role of Nina was just as challenging as that of the Swan Queen since she needs to flip between a doe-like innocent girl to a person potentially losing her mind to the embodiment of the Black Swan in the real world.

Add in the skills of the director and how he plays with scenes that have us constantly questioning what is real and what isn't. And I'm not just talking about the high fantasy bits with feathers popping out of her back or things like that - it's also about the everyday hallucinations she experiences or how she mis-remembers things. Her inability to tell her hallucinations apart from reality is a gripping experience and one that we get to see and feel right alongside with her as members of the audience.

This is a powerful movie, a statement about the extents we go to in order to achieve our goals. It also speaks of the dangers of becoming a bit too obsessive and the possibility that we too might fall into this trap is an interesting one. The best stories are those that evoke stronger emotional responses because they resonate with us or remind us of ourselves. A lot of movies tend to be reflections of real life and being able to put that mirror to us is what always changes things and makes it all more real.

Black Swan is definitely a movie that people ought to see regardless of your interests. It gets 5 disturbing visions of what might of happened out of a possible 5.
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