- 14 Jan 11
Bonkers ballet drama easier to admire than love
Perfectionist ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) is a troubled woman stuck in a state of stunted adolescence. Obsessive rehearsal and an eating disorder have kept her body in its pubescent form; her creepily devoted “Mommy” (Barbara Hershey) undresses and tucks her in at night; and, sexually inexperienced, she’s unable to process her feelings for her sleazy director Thomas (Vincent Cassel.)
But when Thomas offers her the dual lead role in Swan Lake, Nina is forced to grow up. And because burgeoning female sexuality is obviously a horrific, demonic force, Nina’s grasp on reality quickly disintegrates as her dream role becomes a nightmare of disturbing, violent hallucinations centred around Lily (Mila Kunis), a rival ballerina who oozes talent and pheromones in equal measure.
Constantly focusing his shaky camera on Portman’s anxious face, director Darren Aronofsky sublimely evokes Nina’s unsettled mindset, while her daily rehearsals act as an onslaught of sensory torture for the audience as close-ups show bones cracking, skin peeling and toenails splitting. However, as these eerie visuals are replaced with unnecessarily gimmicky special effects, clichéd colour schemes and nonsensical tangents, Aronofsky fails to tie together the elements of ballet, thriller and drama, until Portman becomes lost in an amateur tutu-clad homage to David Lynch.
While Portman perfectly captures the fragility of Nina’s mental state, her character is one-note. Beginning the film as a hallucinating obsessive, it’s impossible to empathize with her, and coupled with the deliberately stylized visuals, the audience is not asked to engage or understand her emotional torment, merely observe it from an unenlightened distance.
Though visually beautiful and boasting superb performances from the entire cast, Black Swan, much like the ballet Nina so adores, falters because of its emphasis on melodramatic style over substance. Though an intriguing and occasionally brilliant psychosexual thriller, it’s nowhere near as unique or special as its title would imply. And there’s not actually that much dancing in it either.