Friday 21 January 2011

Black Swan (2011) - Darren Aronofsky


Not the ballet world's view of Black Swan.  Instead, it has generally criticised the film for it's stereotypical portrayal of dancers and in particular, Portman's unprofessional balletic performance.  But such a view is not only over-critical, it's actually missing the point of the film.  Yes, Portman is not a ballet dancer and hasn't had years of training, but this makes her believable performance all the more commendable.  More so, the film is not about ballet, it's about seeking perfection. 

Portman plays Nina: a fragile, helpless, innocent girl given the role of the Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake by a New York ballet company.  The role requires the dancer to perform both the white and the black swan, the good and the bad.  She is a perfectionist, her own worst enemy, but in her strive for perfection she must learn to let go and release her dark side, her inner demons and her sexuality.  As such, the relatively simple plot (which somewhat parallels the story of Swan Lake) unfolds as an intense psychological exploration of Nina's multifaceted personality.  The film blurs the boundaries of reality and fantasy in its dissection of the darkest corners of Nina's mind, creating layers of ambiguity that will have you questioning every moment of the film from beginning to end.  It is therefore a film that will reward multiple viewings.

Ultimately, perfection is a question of balance - ying and yang.  The duality of this theme plays out in the exceptional direction by Aronofsky, who exploits a number of cinematic techniques.  The colour is almost completely drained from the film, giving a stark, monochromatic visual effect to highlight the contrast of black and white.  This is further reflected in the costumes.  Also apparent is the visual motif of the mirror, from the rehearsal mirror to the mirrors in Nina's flat - there are often literally two (or more) Nina's on screen at once.  By extension, the use of mirror imagery, perception and optical illusion is cleverly utilised.  The music, too, employs distortion - Mansell has taken Tchaikovsky's original score but manipulated it, providing something familiar yet twisted.

With the focus on its core theme, Black Swan transcends its balletic context - the metaphor of perfection applies to all forms of art and beyond (the screenplay originally concerned an actress, not a dancer).  The performances and the direction are equally exquisite, frightening and thought-provoking.  Black Swan is surely deserving of all the praise it has received.  It is a masterpiece by all involved.