Saturday, January 8, 2011

Black Swan - A Surreal Transformation

                                          I was perfect... - Nina Sayers

We live our lives seeking for perfection in whatever we do, even in the smallest of jobs. Athletes seek perfection in their performance, actors in their acting, musicians in their music. A job of an artist is one of the toughest, since theirs is a kind of job that is viewed and talked about by millions. Artists go to mind boggling limits to attain that perfect moment in their artistry, in the process forgetting the fact that perfection is just a state of the mind, it is just an opinion that may differ from one person to another. They immerse themselves in their quest for perfection so much so that they fail to realize the line that starts to blur between illusion and reality. And who better to showcase that blurring of lines than Darren Aronofsky? The man who had provided a new lease of life to a then-struggling Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, the man who had directed one of the most depressing and heart-breaking films ever made- Requiem for a Dream, is now back with the brilliant Natalie Portman (V for Vendetta, Leon) in the psychological thriller Black Swan, which could probably be the highlight of both their star-studded careers if it wins major awards at this year's Academy awards.

Black Swan tells the story of a shy and gullible Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a talented ballet dancer from the New York City Ballet company who is chosen to play the lead role of both the White Swan and the Black Swan in "Swan Lake" under the direction of the demanding and relentless Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). Leroy finds her to be perfect for the role of the White Swan since she has the natural innocence, grace and purity that requires to be portrayed in the role, but he voices his doubts over her portrayal of the Black Swan - a role that requires her to transform into seductive and deceptive temptress. The weight of living both the roles, coupled with the pressure of her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey) and the fear of losing her role to a stunning, bold and sexually preying fellow dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) sends her into a state of paranoia where the mind plays tricks with her senses, and also with that of the viewers.

Darren Aronofsky takes us into an art form which has never been explored extensively in recent times, that of ballet dancing. As the initial few moments of the film unfold we are introduced to the rigorous and relentless rehearsals that ballet performers put themselves through while risking their bodies. Dance steps like the on-point step where ballet dancers rotate their bodies fluidly on support of their toes could leave you in awe and in admiration of this strenuous dance form. Longevity is something of utmost importance in an art form like ballet which requires their performers to remain in pristine and supple condition and on top of their game. Nina is touted as the next big thing by Leroy, as he selects her for the part of the Swan Princess overlooking a has-been suicidal prima donna Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) who unable to bear the rejection launches a tirade on an aghast Nina. 

Darren Aronofsky deftly handles the transformation of Nina from the reserved and sexually repressed White Swan that she is, to the cunning, charged-up, malicious Black Swan which Leroy wants to see in Nina on stage. There are disturbing scenes aplenty in the movie that underline the birth of the Black Swan within her. Obsessed with breaking her Miss Goody-Two-Shoes image to fit into the role of the Black Swan, Nina goes on a night out with Lily experimenting with sex and drugs letting out that dark side within her. She transforms from the obedient Mama's girl to a violent, moody, vengeful woman who would stop at nothing to achieve that perfection in her role of the White Swan and Black Swan even if it results in her distortion of illusion and reality. This clearly is Natalie Portman's role of a lifetime, and one could think of no one else who could have played the role with such conviction. She has put her body, mind and soul to live the role of a troubled ballet dancer, which is translated convincingly on screen as she looks every bit of a lithe ballet dancer. As a viewer you feel sorry for the naive and simple Nina as she is bullied by her peers, by her overbearing mother, and by the manipulative Leroy. But as Nina slowly transforms into the deadly Black Swan your pity for her turns into a shock making you wonder on whatever happened to that gullible girl you had seen on screen a while back.

It is not only Natalie Portman's portrayal that makes this feel like an opera, but also Clint Mansell, an Aronofsky regular who lends an opera-like feeling to the movie with his background score. She is ably supported by Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises) as Thomas Leroy who brings a meanness and uncompromising trait of a director who expects perfection from his players. The sexy Mila Kunis is a perfect foil to Nina as she oozes a sensuality and boldness which is lacking in Nina, Barbara Hershey plays her role of an understanding, over-caring yet strict Erica Sayers with aplomb. Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands) is scary and intimidating as Beth Macintyre in her blink-and-miss role of a washed out ballet dancer. Darren Aronofsky with great hand-held camera work, and dark and gloomy settings creates a feeling of paranoia around Nina who feels like she is being followed and is under threat of having her role sabotaged by Lily.

Black Swan is not meant for everyone, it has a dark and disturbing theme that shows us a  woman dedicated to her art, is searching for perfection by venturing into her dark side only to loose touch with reality. It has a partly surrealistic setting which leave the viewers flummoxed with what unfolds on the screen. There may be questions which will be left unanswered by the time the end credits roll thanks to its abstract narration. It is not your regular popcorn movie where all the loose ends are tied conveniently for your understanding, since that is how an Aronofsky movie works. Black Swan could well be the movie that fetches the much deserved honors in this award season to Natalie Portman, who has refreshingly reinvented herself in every role that she has played, since a twelve-year old Mathilda in Leon, to a quirky and adventurous girl-next-door in Garden State, to an angst-ridden mother torn between two men in Brothers. With Black Swan, Natalie Portman has effectively transformed from a demure Duckling to a graceful Swan Princess.

Trailer: Black Swan


Matangi Mawley said...

That was a great review...

good blog..

keep writing!

Jane Hamilton said...

Hi, this is my first time on your blog. I got here through the 'New Writers, New Books' group on Facebook. I loved this review of "Black Swan". After a really long time, your post has given me a chance to read a well-written article which does not resort to all the short-cuts that are allowed in blogging.

Your blog design and template is pleasing and engaging too!

Thank you for writing, and keep up the great work! Kudos.

Anonymous said...

A fantastic review...

Anuraag Seshadri said...

@ Anon, @ Jane @ Mathangi

Thank you for all your valuable comments. Sorry for the late response though. :-)