Just a few months shy of her 30th birthday she’s engaged, she’s knocked up and today she got herself an Oscar. I’m delighted. I like Natalie Portman. She’s a good actress and she comes across as being a real lady. Herself and Cate Blanchett should get together and establish the Hollywood Academy for Ladies. Cate can be principal, Natalie vice-principal. They could teach those other Hollywood trashbags a thing or too. But this isn’t about ladies and trashbags. This is about Black Swan.
First let’s talk ornithology. All the swans in Australia are black. That’s not a metaphor. If the makers of Black Swan wanted a title that was kinda punchy and kinda dark then it failed in the Southern Hemisphere. They may as well just have called it Normal Swan.
Joking aside, I found this film utterly compelling. It tells the story of a young ballerina, Nina (Portman), who wins the much-coveted lead role in her New York ballet company’s production of Swan Lake. Nina’s reserved, perfectionist temperament is ideal when she dances the part of the white swan, but to completely succeed in the role she must also engender the dark, lustful confidence of the black swan. Here is where her challenge lies. There is a darker side to Nina that she keeps mostly in check but this role forces her to explore it and to re-evaluate what it means to be “perfect”. The process is both her making and her destruction.
Over the course of the film it becomes clear that Nina is not going to be able to have it all. For her performance to be everything it needs to be she sacrifices her body and her mind. As you watch Nina succeed in her role you feel dismay that no one in the narrow little world she inhabits can save her. Her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) is bitter, clingy, overprotective and can’t accept that her “sweet girl” has grown up. Her director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) is concerned solely with her performance. All his interactions with her seem aimed purely at manipulating her into giving what he wants on stage, without a care for her emotional well-being. And her understudy Lily (Mila Kunis), a new dancer in the company, at one turn appears a compassionate friend, at the next an enemy determined to hasten Nina’s destruction for her own gain.
Black Swan is no happy little ballerina film. It’s intense and often disturbing viewing. If you’re a bit squeamish about blood and injuries (as I am) you may find yourself having to look away at times, as Nina graphically cracks, cuts, tears and bleeds emotionally and physically.
The most striking thing about this film are the stark contrasts between black and white, strength and fragility, creation and destruction and ultimately complete success and complete tragedy.
Random thoughts I had while watching this film – Why have they intercut this fictional tale with a documentary about Winona Ryder?
Random thoughts I had after watching this film – Natalie Portman likes to make films where she gets to a) star alongside someone from That 70s Show and b) paint her face white. My prediction for her next project is a gender swapping biopic about Marcel Marceau with Portman in the lead role and Topher Grace playing each of Marceau’s three wives.
If you like watching Portman get crazy you might also enjoy….. this.