“I just want to be perfect” says Natalie Portman’s prima ballerina Nina Sayers when company director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) urges her to let go and live and discover the black swan inside of her. He is convinced that she can do the innocent, perfect white swan, but the leading role in Swan’s Lake demands more from Nina.
“Their names were Tom and Jerry and I fucked them both.” The premiere of the ballet is nearing and it becomes clear that Nina has transformed, or is transforming. But whether this is a good thing…. She throws out her stuffed animals and the music box with the twirling ballerina figure on top. She locks out her over-protective mother from her room and indulges in sex, drugs and rock’n’roll with alter ego and rival Lily (Mila Kunis, from the That 70s Show).
The question is if Nina will really be able to pull of the black swan, the aggressive and seductive mirror image of the white swan. And if so, at what cost? Director Darren Aronofsky has made a true masterpiece out of Black Swan. Aronofsky, a controversial love-it-or-hate-it figure seems to have finally won over not only the critics that favored him already, but also the big film going audience. His previous work was marginal (Pi), excessive (Requiem for a Dream), misunderstood (The Fountain) and finally overlooked with The Wrestler, which gained respect because of its leading man (Mickey Rourke) rather than its director. But while (some of the) critics who did not appreciate Aronofsky’s work in the first place remain unconvinced, the master of psycho-horror has finally managed to produce a box office success Stateside.
With a hand-held camera that is often too-close-for-comfort to the characters, suggestive lighting, a thunderous reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s music by Clint Mansell and a breathtaking new choreography of the famous ballet Nina Sayers’ descend into madness and self-mutilation turns visceral and even tangible to the audience. Her strive for perfection, the pressures endured on behalf of Thomas, Lily and her mother and the discipline that Nina maintains with regard to her body are literally felt. The film leaves the viewer physically tired and overwhelmed. And delighted with joy and admiration.
And how wonderful has Natalie Portman grown up. From a wunderkind in Leon to a spunky youngster in Garden State and passed a political coming-of-age in V for Vendetta she is know with right one of Hollywood’s leading ladies. And when she grabs that well-deserved Oscar for Black Swan she will be there with the likes of Streep, Roberts and Kidman; the true – deserved – divas of American cinema. That her career survived the agony of the Star Wars prequels, unlike those of Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen, is just another diamond to her crown. In Black Swan Portman goes all the way. She transformed physically into a dancer (losing 10 kilos and learning to do the ballet scenes herself) and puts her character through the murkiest depths of psychological horror and disintegration. Only to transform into something even more beautiful than the white swan and transcend all darkness in the end.
Black Swan is one of the top movies of the year, deservedly nominated for 5 Oscars. And although Best Film might be out of reach with the competition of the likes of The Social Network, True Grit and The King’s Speech, and although Inception might pick up Best Cinematography, Natalie Portman is a shoe-in for Best Actress, Aronofsky has a shot for Best Director, and the ballet sequences deserve an award for Best Editing. Whether the Academy agrees is to be seen, but American audiences loved the film, I loved the film and I hope many of you will too.