February Issue 2011

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 13 years ago

Macabre Masterpiece

Like Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan sucks the audience into a myriad of visually complex and highly emotive scenes — as the last scene comes to a close, it takes a couple of minutes to pull back into reality. This psychological-thriller is thematically like The Wrestler. It grapples with a single-minded commitment to one profession and the price you pay to get to the very top, which in this instance is cankerous self-destruction.

Nina (Natalie Portman), the new prima ballerina chosen to perform the lead in an avant-garde version of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at the New York City Ballet Company, is so obsessed with her career that even a painful injury like a bloody toe nail does not stop her from practicing. Living with her over-bearing and near-insane mother, a former ballerina, in a suffocatingly small apartment, she is also sheltered, stiff and sexually repressed.

The impresario of the Company, the very French and lecherous Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), has a “reputation” for taking on the leads as lovers and Leroy pushes the perfect Nina to “lose herself” to inject feeling, sensuality, in her dance — and so she does, aided by her alter ego and understudy Lily (Mila Kunis). Lily, a dancer from Los Angeles with her reckless abandon, poses stiff competition and drives Nina delusional with jealousy to the point where she strips the skin of her finger. Lily is otherwise like a breath of fresh air in the film, providing relief in a suffocating world of near-anorexic dancers, where competition is fierce, shown best in the character of Beth (Winona Ryder), the previous lead, who is retiring rather ungracefully and has to be hospitalised after bouts of jealousy-related hysteria.

Rated ‘R’ with recurring images of perverse self-mutilation, the movie’s first lesbian sex scene between Lily and Nina is pivotal, as Aronofsky skilfully transports us into the mind of Nina, who at first, had seemed mildly schizophrenic, but after Lily denies the entire episode even the audience cannot differentiate reality from hallucinations. The camera-work uses consecutive close-up shots of the main character and the use of mirrors and reflections enhance the multi-layered realities as the audience experiences what Nina experiences. Natalie Portman’s performance is deserving of an Oscar and is head and shoulders above her previous roles in V for Vendetta and Star Wars. Portman, who in her younger days had learned ballet, shed 20 pounds for this role and resumed training for ballet one year prior to filming Black Swan.

The movie has already been nominated in several categories for the Academy Awards, the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, BAFTA Awards and Portman has already won Best Actress at the Golden Globes.

Maheen Bashir Adamjee is an APNS award-winning journalist. She was an editorial assistant at Newsline from 2010-2011.