Black Swan (2010) Directed by Darren Aranofsky. With Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder and Mila Kunis.
Darren Aranofsky’s Black Swan is a menacing psychological drama, boasting an Academy Award-winning performance from Natalie Portman playing Nina, a fragile ballet dancer, hoping to secure the lead role in a Broadway production of Tchaikovsky’s much revered Swan Lake.
Together with Portman and cinematographer Matthew Libatique, Aranofsky creates a strikingly intimate portrait of a young woman under extreme personal pressure, showcasing the bone-cracking brutality of a discipline that offers romance and escapism on its surface, but one that can consume those dedicated enough to desire the unattainable; perfection.
Portman’s character battles with sanity as she strives for to be the best, and the camera never leaves her alone. It’s as if we, the audience, are made to feel as though we’re hounding this woman too. Vincent Cassel, playing the director of the production, mounts on the pressure, intrusively encouraging Nina to dig deep within, even beyond herself to discover an aspect of her personality needed to portray the dual role of white and black swan. Her unstable mother (Barbara Hershey) makes things worse, suffocating Nina, while hoping to achieve her own lost dreams vicariously through her vulnerable daughter. Then there’s jealousy and temptation, two dangerous emotions that enter Nina’s world in varying degrees, through an alarmingly unhinged Winona Ryder and Mila Kunis.
There’s extreme beauty, eroticism and horror on show in Black Swan, all set around a musical production that sends chills down the spine, whenever the orchestra strikes up to play the iconic score. Aranofsky does a great job of keeping the audience off-balance, with some frankly shocking scenes amid a threatening atmosphere that always seems to be on the brink of teetering over the edge. It borrows the odd moment of inspiration from that other great ballet movie, Powell & Pressburger’s sublime 1948 classic, The Red Shoes, but make no mistake, it is every bit as stunningly powerful. 5/5