First of all, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. I hope you and yours are enjoying the time with family and friends. We celebrated Christmas by going to the movies. Today’s movie is the Fox Searchlight feature Black Swan. The psychological thriller is directed by Darren Arnofsky stars Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, and Wynona Rider. The movie centers around a production of Swan Lake, and the effect that it has on a young woman struggling to keep her sanity while fighting for the lead role. The movie has picked up all sorts of acclaim, and some of the actors are being talked about for major awards, and after watching it for myself, I can see why.
The movie centers around Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), an incredibly talented – but high-strung – ballerina for a prestigious ballet company in New York. As they prepare to say goodbye to a “retiring” prima ballerina named Beth MacIntyre (Wynona Rider), they’re also making plans for the start of the new season by opening with a new rendition of Swan Lake. The director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) is reluctant to cast Nina, because he feels that she is unable to capture the raw sensuality of the Black Swan; he feels that the innocent Nina is better suited for the role of the White Swan. Only problem is that the same ballerina plays both parts. As Nina begins her preparations for the big role, she meets a ballerina named Lily (Mila Kunis), and it is apparent that she is everything Nina is not; whereas Nina is innocent and strives for control in every aspect of her life, Lily is more wild and carefree. When these two clash, it can only go in one direction.
I have always been a fan of Natalie Portman; ever since I first saw her in Léon: The Professional, I knew she was destined for greatness. She had a few hits and misses along the way (I’m looking at you, George Lucas), but she really shines in this movie. She plays her character perfectly. You literally watch Nina as she makes her descent from a mildly disturbed woman to a complete descent into madness, and – much like the White Swan from the play – that descent is hard and painful.
Mila Kunis is spectacular in her role as Lily. Her character is supposed to be free and uninhibited, and she does that to perfection. It is amazing to watch her in her scenes as she plays her character in a way that makes you wonder if she’s really trying to be a friend to Nina, or if she has her sight on the most prestigious role out there: the role of the White Swan. She displays a sensuality so strong that you wonder if she’s actually working for Vivid Video and not Fox Searchlight.
Vincent Cassel plays the part of Thomas Leroy as a bit of an enigma. He obviously cares about the production on the stage, and he does nothing to betray those feelings. However, he also has an unorthodox way of getting the best out of his performers. Some of the things he does to try to loosen Nina up is pretty close to sexual harassment, though. It’s rather uncomfortable to watch a lot of it, but it appears to be somewhat effective.
Every time I saw Barbara Hershey on screen, all I could say was “that woman is crazy!” Know what? It fit. Barbara Hershey plays Erica Sayers as a domineering control freak who has an odd way of showing love to her daughter. She is just incredibly controlling, and it’s rather disturbing to watch her lose that control. Wynona Rider has a small role, but it is a potent one. She shows where Nina could end up if she isn’t careful. Funny thing is, I didn’t even realize it was her until the end of the movie.
Darren Arnofsky is a fantastic director, and he shows his mettle here. He shows a firm pacing that is really incredible, and he really lets us get into the heads of these characters – for good or for ill. The cinematography by Matthew Libatique is beautiful; the way that the camera follows Nina as she goes through her daily routine or when she hits the stage is simply breathtaking. The score by Clint Mansell is phenomenal, and he took a lot of his cues from Tchaikovsky’s play. That’s not necessarily a good thing, though; doing that robbed him of the chance of getting an Academy Award nomination.
I really loved this movie. It was beautiful, haunting, and damning all at once. It made me feel uncomfortable, but it wasn’t so uncomfortable that I wanted to turn away. It had a high level of anxiety that I hadn’t seen in a movie since District 9, and it was painfully wonderful to watch. At the end of the movie, you realize that you’ve gone on that descent with Nina, and it’s a exquisitely painful fall at that. I give this movie five dragon heads out of five, and it deserves every accolade it gets.
After all, it is painfully……perfect.