Black Swan is Darren Aronofsky’s latest psychological drama, and to say that it will keep you on the edge of your seat is an understatement. While this film has received wide acclaim – with Portman receiving an Academy Award for her performance – the fact of the matter is that you’ll either love this film or just not get it.
Black Swan is the psychological journey of a ballet dancer in pursuit of perfection. When Nina Sayers (Portman) is cast as the lead in Swan Lake at the New York ballet company for which she dances, her lifelong dream to play the role of the white swan comes true. However, as prima ballerina, she must perfect the part of both the white swan and the black swan.As she struggles with the fear of failing, she is left in a constant loop of hallucination and suspicion.
Nina’s insecurities are embodied in her understudy, Lily (Kunis), whom she believes is trying to sabotage her to take the part. Incapable of trusting anyone around her, Nina is caught between reality and hallucination. Her relationship with her obsessive mother, the ballet director and Lily isolate Nina further, driving her to extreme paranoia as opening night nears.
Whereas the plot centres on Nina, other characters in the film help Nina along in her madness. The perfectionist ballet director, Thomas Leroy (Cassel), pushes Nina to her limits and prods at her self-esteem continuously. Kunis plays the role of the competitive alternate, Lily; she is the sensual, adventurous black swan and Nina’s foil throughout. Nina’s mother, Erica Sayers (Hershey) is a neurotic, failed dancer who obsesses over her daughter continuously, projecting her own failures onto her.
Black Swan has little of the grace of ballet; sharp, harsh cuts transport the audience from scene to scene the art direction colours the film in harsh blacks and whites. The symbolism of Nina’s innocence is embodied in everything the film’s aesthetics, to her personal relationships.
Aronofsky is in complete control of all his elements as director, spinning a story that draws on the plot of Swan Lake while cutting deep into the disturbed psyche of a dancer. Seamlessly woven together, Nina’s reality and hallucination make it difficult for even the audience to know the difference between what is actually happening and what is in her head.