Black Swan (15)
Darren Aronofsky’s dark, psychosexual tale of obsession and corruption is set within the insular world of ballet but it could be about any art form that demands passion, dedication and ruthless ambition.
Naturally Aronofsky cannot present a straight portrait of a dancer driven to extremes. Instead he adds a Kafkaesque dynamic to this complex and haunting tale of a fragile young wannabe plucked from the background to replace another dancer (Winona Ryder in an extended cameo), deemed over the hill by the company’s predatory artistic director, in a new production of Swan Lake.
Natalie Portman is Nina, the delicate newcomer who flits between the suffocating attentions of her mother, a former dancer (Barbara Hershey) and the basilisk eye of Thomas (Vincent Cassel), the autocratic, Svengali-style director of a New York company who makes and breaks star dancers on a whim.
Nervous and lacking confidence, Nina is thrust into the spotlight under Thomas’s unforgiving gaze. Arriving to add to Nina’s paranoia is Lily (Mila Kunis), a charismatic and worldly-wise rival from San Francisco whose beauty and easy sensuality only serve to further undermine Nina’s brittle poise.
Seen as a fly-on-the-wall insight into a closeted world, Black Swan hints at what really goes on in the dressing rooms of the world’s ballet companies. Yet the overwhelming darkness that clouds Nina’s journey from faceless company dancer to overnight star cannot be seen as anything other than a descent into fantasy and madness.
Throughout the film Aronofsky hints at the instability of his leading lady, filling the screen and soundtrack with hints to her perilous mental state. A breath escapes from a lipstick. A painting moves. Nina finds skin and blood on her fingers. Her body is changing…
Starved of love, smothered by her over-bearing (sole) parent and open to seduction, Nina is a victim waiting to be abused. Underlining this is the frantic neediness of a young woman pressured to achieve perfection at whatever cost.
Flitting from light to dark, from reality to fantasy, from eroticism to creepy discomfort, Black Swan eventually settles upon psychosis, self-harm and murder as its key components. No wonder ballet professionals around the world have dismissed it as a tasteless melange of body horror and exploitative sex.
A story of good versus evil personified by Nina’s White Swan and Lily’s Black Swan, this enthralling and mesmeric study of compulsion is filled with sinister undertones, forever threatening to drag the audience into Nina’s dread netherworld.
Aronofsky has taken a trip with Charon into the land previously inhabited by Davids Lynch and Cronenberg. What’s more, he finds himself utterly at home.