Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder; Director: Darren Aronofsky;
Though weakness, fragility and ugliness are frowned upon, these are the elixir of life. For there could be no conception of strength or beauty without it. And it is the conception of these opposites — black and white, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, woman and her doppelganger that auteur Darren Aronofsky explores in ‘Black Swan’, beginning with the two words of the film’s name that stand for opposites.
Nina (Nataile Portman), a ballerina, is desperate for the part of the swan queen in the ballet Swan Lake. The director, though impressed with her discipline, does not think she has it in her to play the swan queen’s evil twin, black swan. And she indeed gets too easily intimidated by everyone. However, gradually she observes changes in herself.
After a rash incident makes her director choose her, her dark side takes over gradually and through schizophrenic hallucinations, she not only plays the black swan, but becomes it in her mind and achieves perfection.
While casting Nina, the director tells Nina: ‘What is the use of all that discipline. Let go. Transcend. Surprise yourself’. That is what Aronofsky, an extremely disciplined filmmaker, seems to be telling himself.
After he hangs Mickey Rourke mid-air in the last shot of his last film ‘The Wrestler’, here he lets his ballerina take her leap of faith and follows his camera to her fall to ecstasy. Taking a leap with Rourke in the last film and Portman in this, Aronofsky does reach his own perfection.
Aronofsky’s skills are evident in the way he tells the story; a good part of it through mere reflection. Nina sees her dark reflection on the glass of a suburban train. Later, when she sees Beth, who she has replaced, for the first time after her accident, she sees her as a reflection on a glass pane of a door. Both these reflection foreshadow her future.
Unlike ‘The Fountain’, where he traverses the universe, here he confines himself to the immediate space of his ballerina. As her split personality and schizophrenic hallucinations become more pronounced, the camera composes her tightly as the spaces keep getting more and more constricted, till the end where she flies away.
It is the nature of things that opposite enhances. White looks whiter near black, beauty shines more in the presence of ugliness, strength soars in front of weakness. And that is the intention of ‘Black Swan’, to enhance white, beauty and strength, by highlighting the opposite, but showing the protagonist reach these using the opposite.
Natalie Portman, who won an Oscar for this role, drowns herself in this dark tale of an obsessed ballerina. She’s fragile and evil in equal and delicate measure, a quality without which the film would not have worked. And with over a century-old composer in Tchaikovsky, whose compositions embody opposites, the film does manage to achieve its own cinematic perfection.