Darren Aronofsky said he was fascinated to make a re-imagening of Swan Lake because he thought the story of a girl who transforms into a swan to be similar to that of a werewolf. Frankly, I have never seen Swan Lake because I dismissed it… well, as a boring ballet about a swan. And I am still skeptical that a ballet performance would be able to capture the nightmarish thrill of this adaptation. If it does, then I can’t wait to see it.
For those who are not familiar (as I was before seeing Black Swan) the story behind Swan Lake is about a girl who is transformed into a white swan; the only way for her to turn back is to find her love. But the man of her dreams falls instead for the Black Swan. Driven mad by love the White Swan kills herself. The lead is supposed to play both Swans since the opposing roles are supposed to be two sides of the same person. In Black Swan this story is mirrored in the life of Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballet dancer of the New York Lincoln Center Company.
The thing about ballet is that it defies all that is natural for the human body. If you seen any movie involving ballet performers you would know how deformed the dancer’s bodies are. The physical training is so demanding that it would be no surprise to find out several have lost their mind to it, especially those who’s entirely life has been ruled by it. Nina is one of these overachieving performers and there is enough evidence for the audience to know that this was not her choice. Nina’s overprotective mother (Barbara Hershey) was once a dancer, who claims to have given her career for her daughters. Nina’s life is so overwhelmed by the presence of her mother, it is suggested Nina never had any other type of relationship until she gets the part of the Swan Queen.
The Company is headed by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), an egotistical director known more for his affairs with the dancers than his actual talent as a director. He is seductive enough that his approaches on the dancers are considered genius and not sexual harassment. After Nina puts off an advance by Leroy, the director sees no other way to get his “little princess” to comply than giving Nina the lead in his “reimage” of Swan Lake. It turns out that Nina is the perfect choice for the White Swan but everyone finds her to “frigid” for the Black Swan. The Black Swan requires someone who is a little freer, bolder and not as perfect as Nina; someone like Lily (Mila Kunis). Lily is the new dancer at the company; she is one of those people with so much natural talent that everyone around her can’t help but be envious with admiration. Nina quickly becomes obsessed over Lily. Should Nina befriend the new girl and learn a few things from her? Or is the new girl after her role as the Swan Queen? If she is, should Nina dispose of the competition? What follows is a nightmare through Nina’s mind as she looses it for the sake of art. And you better hold on because this dancer’s mind is one dark place.
A phycological thriller like this one would not work without a fearless performances and a bold direction. Needless to say it provides both. I am not sure if Portman and Kuni actually danced themselves; if they did then their training for the roles must have been as rigorous as that of their characters. Mickey Rourke won the Academy Award for his performance in Aronofsky’s last film. There are a lot of similarities between Rourke’s character in that film and Porman’s ballerina in Black Swan; a nomination should be certain. As for Aronofsky, he is directing The Wolverine next. I can’t see what he sees in a franchise that has been dead since X2. But once again I could have never imagined Balck Swan out of Swan Lake so maybe Aronofsky is exactly the medicine the X-Men franchise needs.