Greetings again from the darkness. Normally, I watch a movie, organize my thoughts and write my comments. Not surprisingly, this film has me all tangled up in thoughts, opinions and analysis. Though I won’t, I could easily write 10 pages on this mesmerizing work from visionary director Darren Aronofsky. It’s best if this film is allowed to work it’s (black) magic on each individual viewer.
What I can tell you is that similar to Christopher Nolan‘s Inception, there will be a definite line of demarcation between those who like and those who don’t. And just like with Nolan’s exceptional film, among those who “like” this one, there will still be much debate and discussion about themes, meanings, presentation, performances and message. In my opinion, that’s a pretty good report card for both films.
Be forewarned … this is a very dark, risky and edgy film. Know that it steps even farther out than Mr. Aronofsky’s previous work in The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream and Pi. In other words, he works very hard on the presentation so that the viewer can be whisked away in many different directions emotionally.
The multi-faceted story has many angles, any of which could be construed as the lead. Natalie Portman (Nina) stars as a mid-20’s member of a struggling New York ballet company. Barbara Hershey is Nina’s smothering mother, who gives all dance mom’s a bad name with her attempts to live vicariously through her daughter, while also stifling her growth into adulthood (the pink bedroom looks as if an 8 year old girl would be in heaven). Wynona Ryder (Beth) plays the “aging” prima ballerina who is forced into retirement, and Mila Kundis (Lily) is the mysterious newcomer who may or may not have an agenda. The powerful Vincent Cassel (Thomas) is the company director and plays the role full bore.
Thomas announces that the company will be performing “Swan Lake” and, almost knowing the dancers will hiss at the re-tread, he quickly adds that it’s never been done his way … the same dancer playing both the White and Black Swan. He knows that Nina is the perfect choice as the White Swan but isn’t sure she can dig deep enough for the dark side. Lily is her polar opposite … mirror image … as the emotionally free, with a comfortable level of darkness and evil. I mention mirrors because they play a key role throughout the film.
When Nina is chosen for the role, a twisted friendship with Lily emerges. This draws Nina further inside herself exposing thoughts and actions she never before imagined. On top of this, Thomas is the predatory authoritarian who constantly challenges her, leading to even more self-doubt.
As Nina slowly transforms from little girl into womanhood, we witness what looks like a slow slide towards madness. Has she gone too far? Will she snap out? Much of what we see is a clash between reality and her delusional mind. The viewer must decipher where the line is … often multiple times within a single scene! We are left wondering if Lily is stealing Nina’s identity or is it the other way around?
The other topic we cover is the constant battle that dancers face. The cutthroat competition, backstage battles, increasing pain and injuries, the fear of failure – both physically and emotionally, and the immense dedication and skill required for this short-lived profession. There is a drive for perfection in these dancers, just like in the best athletes, musicians, actors, etc. Of course, perfection as a goal leads to disappointment in result.
As for similar type movies, I really can’t name one. What I can do is tell you there are bits and pieces of The Red Shoes (1948), All About Eve (1950) and some early Polanski (Repulsion, The Tenant). I can’t rave enough about the script from Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin. Camera work is ground-breaking during the actual performance. We are weaving in and out of the stage with the dancers. Breathtaking! The musical score combined with the familiar songs topped with amazingly subtle (and some not so subtle) effects makes this best described as an artsy horror film meshed with a crackling psychological thriller held together by nightmarish melodrama. Hopefully you are intrigued and this one is just “perfect” for you!
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have no idea what I mean when I say “artsy horror film”, but you are intrigued by the thought.
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: the mere mention of “artsy horror film” has you reaching for a Julia Roberts DVD