Photo Courtesy of: cainandtoddbenson.com
Movie is Rated: R
What makes a movie brilliant you ask?: is it the story? the script? or, is it the actors or the message(s)/theme(s) and and all of the many undertones that make for a rich textured piece of visual art? or perhaps, you may wonder if it is the music that determines the greatness of a film? Truly, you can’t have a movie of significant value without all of these things co-existing, influencing one another, thus creating something like that of water. Fluid, quenching, and utterly satisfying.
Brief Story/Plotline and analysis:
The “Black Swan” can best be described as a crazy roller coaster ride on a Schizophrenic journey into the mind of our main character, Nina Sayers, driven to madness in her quest to achieve her ultimate goal- dancing the lead role as the newest ‘Swan Queen’ in the hit ballet show titled Swan Lake. Both the white and black swan characters in the ballet are a direct metaphor for Nina’s life and transition from the frail, fragile, and almost weak, (as seen when she indirectly asks for the lead role and upon her director saying he’s already filled the spot, and her attempt to leave, he asks, ‘That’s it? You’re not going to try and change my mind?’) to the confident, sexually seductive, fearless, and almost frightening force she becomes. Her drive to generate a perfect performance as the ‘black swan’ is what sends her sanity spiraling further out of control. She feels herself becoming literally a swan. (This is obviously where the Schizophrenia takes center stage). Part way into opening night of the show, we see through her eyes that her toes are fusing/webbing together, her back is sprouting black feathers, and the night before the big performance, her legs torque and shift into the shape of a swan’s.
Speaking of Schizophrenia, it’s difficult to trust the reality of Nina’s world, as she sees it. For example, it’s not truly clear that the evening out with Nina and her fellow dancer, Lily, drinking and club dancing, happened exactly as she remembered it. Nina believes Lily came home with her, they had an intimate lesbian fling, and then in the morning Lily left without waking her, and as a result made Nina late for rehearsal. Conveniently Lily makes it to the studio on time and fills in for Nina. This is where treading between reality and Nina’s Schizophrenia reality get confusing. Was Nina spot on in her analysis of Lily and the evening prior, coming to the conclusion that Lily was out to sabotage her and steal her role, OR was it in fact paranoia, and Lily did not sleep over as Lily explained next day in rehearsal…
This point leads us to one of the other scenes, near the end of the film, where Nina, upon finishing the first act of her dance and returning to her dressing room to change from her white swan costume into her black one, sees Lily already attired in the feathery black costume, adding finishing touches to her make-up. This is murky blury water here. Tread lightly. At first you see this scene as reality, as Lily indirectly threatens to steal the spotlight and dance the ‘black swan’ part of the second act. Nina rages, and in the heat of her emotions, stabs Lily. …or so she thinks, as do we, the viewers of the film. Though after Nina hides Lily’s body in a closet area in her dressing room, she returns to the stage to dance the second act. Afterward, she returns again to her dressing room to change for the final act, and when doing so, hears a knock at the door. Lo and behold, its Lily… …huh, what… isn’t she suppose to be stabbed and severely wounded in the closet. Apparently this is what Nina is also thinking. Lily seems to give her an honest congratulations/well done that seems genuine and heartfelt. Bewildered and confused, Nina closes the door, walks over to the closet and opens it, realizing Lily is not in there seriously wounded as she had thought. It is then when fantasy turns to the ugly reality as Nina looks down at her own abdomen, realizing that she didn’t stab Lily after all, but in fact wounded herself, thus making Thomas Leroy, her ballet company director correct when he told her, ‘the only person standing in your ways is you.’
Both of these scenes, 1.) the clubbing scene with her friend who supposedly came home with her in a wild night of fun, and 2.) the one where she feels Lily is in her dressing room attempting to overtake her and claim her role, seem to share the same thread. Schizophrenia is running rampant. Making it truly difficult for the viewer to tell what is reality and what is not.
Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Nina was done beautifully- exquisitely. She showed such greatness in her ability to emit the vulnerability and the various weaknesses of an emotionally and psychologically wounded ballet dancer who gradually metamorphosized into the dangerous, seductive, and fearless girl, who became the true embodiment of the character she has been chosen to play, the black swan. The character, Nina Sayers, demands great attention paid to subtlety and nuances that Natalie Portman was careful to not overlook. I think she was spot on in her portrayal of the character.
So, I’m not a dancer, so speaking from a ‘technical’ standpoint, I have little to no knowledge when it comes to this area. Though I’m reminded that many viewers of this film are also not. You don’t have to be. Without any formal training in the art of ballet, a person can reach a conclusion as to whether they feel what they saw was wonderfully fantastic or pitifully plain, a strong performance or weak, whether it has a measure of value or it is simply a waste. …I personally feel the dancing alone was artful, and fantastically fused together with all the facets that make up this film. It was elegant, raw, strong, weak, and all the traits that the white and black swan were said to encompass.
The music of this movie evoked the essence of all that is apprehensive, sweet, sorrowful, seductive, angry, and fearless… the music was a beautiful match to both the story and its acting. All three ingredients, inter-playing nicely in harmony.
This movie succeeded, because all of the pieces, small and individual, came together to create this conscious piece of work that speaks of how madness is the result in the quest for perfection. Truly a well done movie in all regards.