|Poster designed by Bemis Balkind|
Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder
Story by Andres Heinz
Screenplay by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Theatrical Release Date: 17 December 2010
Date of Screening: 8 February 2011
I first read about this on the DVD Talk forum back and was intrigued by the notion of Natalie Portman playing a ballerina in a psychological thriller. Seriously, Natalie Portman as a ballerina is one thing. Natalie Portman in a psychological thriller is one thing. But Natalie Portman as a ballerina in a psychological thriller? Now that's something to see! Then I saw the trailer, and was convinced this would be a daring, artistic film likely to polarize its audience. Sure enough, it was. I was almost two full months late getting to see it, but at least I was able to count it toward this year's DVD Talk Academy Awards Challenge.
We caught a matinée showing yesterday afternoon, along with three elderly couples. I think this is the kind of movie that calls for an intimate setting, meaning a quiet, unobtrusive audience. I was entirely unaware of anyone else being in the theater once the movie began, so I was able to just lose myself in it. I like these kinds of movie-going experiences as I get the benefit of the big screen but without the distractions of being at home. It was nice not having to wait for a cat to settle into my lap.
Anyway, the story gives us a classic ego vs. id conflict. Nina Sayers (Portman) is an unsung veteran of a dance troupe vying for the role of the Swan Queen in a production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Ruled at home by an overbearing and controlling mother (Hershey), she's every bit the virtuous White Swan. Nina has dedicated herself to achieving perfection; her technique is flawless, but producer Thomas Leroy (Cassel) needs to coax out of her the Black Swan; sensuous and dangerous. Nina struggles with accessing this inner part of herself, and the conflict escalates until it has affected her relationships with her mother, producer and fellow dancers.
Natalie Portman is in literally every scene of the movie, which is astounding. The role was clearly demanding physically, and on top of all that she's asked to display some very raw emotion. This is a performance of great depth and subtlety. There are several sequences that pass without a word spoken by the actress; she conveys everything through her facial reactions and body language. It takes an actress of significant talent and experience to handle such tasks without giving too much, and I'm not sure that enough people realize how extraordinary her performance really is--and I say that knowing how many awards she's already won. She really is that good.
If you're thinking about seeing the movie just to see Portman and Kunis in their much-touted sex scene, that's fine (I won't lie; it's pretty good). But I fear that many think that's really all there is to Black Swan and that's a shame; there's a lot going on here from a commentary on ageism to the futility of pursuing perfection, from the effects of controlling authority figures to the nature of art itself.