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Black Swan: A star is born... dead!
The relentlessly creeping tale
of a ballet dancer whose birth and death
result in her perfect debut. Black Swan is certainly
not another Cinderella story.
For anyone with a background in stage performance, Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky, is the story of the an artist (a ballerina in this case) who has devoted her life to her passion and yet when the time comes for her to shine, her audition for a main role turns out to be a failure. Ah, but she need not despair. By the time the first half an hour of the film has gone by, Nina (Natalie Portman) does, to her own sheer amazement, get the eagerly awaited leading role— and the actual drama thus begins.
The protagonist embodied by Natalie Portman (24) is not entirely new or original; on the contrary, it is based on stage-people-like stereotypes: Nina is a rather fragile, self-centred competitive dancer whose aim and ambition will often have her rehearsing for hours on end; she has no friends and scarcely ever does she truly communicate with the outside world. Her life evolves around ballet, the stage and, her ultimate goal, perfection.
The role is, however not extraordinarily particular in kind, performed with such freshness and care that every detail seems to have been catered for on Portman's part, thus rendering Nina an extremely real character and a credibly professional dancer in turn. Perhaps her bachelor degree in Psychology might have been of great help to Portman in the building of this character who, within the fictional world suggested by the film, is challenged to play the dual role of Black and White Swan in the well-known classic, The Swan Lake.
LIVING ON EDGE, FLYING WITHOUT WINGS
Nina is clearly a highly devoted professional dancer, used to meeting tight deadlines and bearing the New York City Ballet director's high demands. She trains really, really hard and, besides sticking to a meagre diet of fruit and vegetables, she hardly ever dares eat without forcing herself to puke immediately afterwards. In other words, bulimia could be taken as one of the many disorders affecting the heroine starring Black Swan.
When Nina is awarded the main role in Swan Lake she can hardly believe her luck: her life-long dream has amazingly come true. Artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) picks her among hundreds to play both, the naive, well-meaning White Swan and the dark, and dangerous Black Swan. But just like Peter Parker's fortune with his newly-acquired heroic skills, Nina comes to understand that "with great power comes great responsibility". Rehearsals begin and her already demanding routine becomes even more demanding— will she manage to put up with it?
Truth be told, she scarcely can, and her being so insecure and "frigid" render her a frail opponent to those aspiring to take her place in case she might fail to meet Leroy's high expectations. Among such "enemies", our heroine will constantly have to face the wild, tempting, even devilish Lily (Mila Kunis), the popular veteran dancer Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) and, as though this didn't sound like enough, herself.
"THE ONLY PERSON STANDING IN YOUR WAY IS YOU"
As suggested by Freud and many others, there seems to lay within our inner selves this popular conflict between good and evil. Dualism is certainly one of the main concepts addressed by this film, though Aronofsky himself has somehow denied his wanting to show any concepts at all in making Black Swan.
When Nina reaches the summit of ther ambitions she does also find herself standing at the peek of her obsessions—and the film will casually come to reach its climax. As she is about to perform one of the final scenes in which she, as the lead, comes out in the way of the Black Swan, she falls once again into a losing battle against herself. Why? How? Perhaps because of fear, lack of confidence, pressure, stress. The moment of realisation that the time has come for her to show she has what it takes to play both roles suddenly strikes her and, embedded in her own wild, escapist fantasy, Nina envisions herself murdering Lily, who had been lately appointed by Leroy as her replacement. However shocked she looks for a while, Nina is the true specimen of showbiz who is well aware that, no matter what, show must go on.
Thus, spurred on by the thrill and adrenaline of what she feels like her momentum, she decidedly comes out on stage just in time for her appearance as the Black Swan. The audience in the film will expect her to be the same dancer who had just been playing the White Swan, but they will still plead for a slight change: after naivety, innocence, decency and harmless looks, darkness must be displayed, danger needs to show, evil forces must come alive in Nina's personification of the Black Swan. And so they do. With all fears cast aside, Nina performs her part in an absolutely stunning, impressively perfect manner: she has become the Black Swan herself, she is the Black Swan.
THE BLACK SWAN FORMULA
- European-like pace, photography and colour
- Hollywood's magic touch and widespreading
- The Swan Lake classic as hypertext
- The Swan Lake soundtrack crooning in the background or deadening the setting when needed
- A combination of wildly atractive genres: drama+thriller+a few indefinable sources
- An astoundingly professional cast and camera crew
- A thought-provoking effect
IN THE STYLE OF ALL THAT JAZZ, AT THE MOST
Altogetehr the film is an oddly disturbing yet fascinating portrayal of an artist's struggle to get a main role among many who are after her same aim and ambition. What, then, makes this film so particular and different from Fame, Flashdance and The Red Shoes? Oh, and Billy Elliot? Well, just in case you are wondering, this is not a musical.
Now, first and foremost Black Swan stands for not only drama fiction but also it communicates an awkward sense of outstandingly performed tragedy. The main character, Nina, is not the typical humble, penniless teenage girl who suddenly aspires to become famous out of a stroke of mere luck. There is a professional ballerina starring Black Swan, there's years of sacrifice, endless hours of devotion to it behind Nina's swan-like eyes and delicate facial features.
Second, she is not, like poor Billy, trying to make it and get in the most ground-breaking ballet academy— she is already one of them, she is a "royal" member of the New York professional ballet. What Nina is anxious about proving is that she is worth the role, that the part should not be denied to her because she has what it takes to perform it. And third, the ending does definitely set this film apart from many you nay have seen on dancing and the world of stage drama before.
THE CAMERA: INSIDE THE SELF
Portman is said to have worked really hard for her part in Black Swan. However, most of her moves are shot as from her waist to the top, with the camera mainly focusing on her chest, arms and face.
Yet whether she had one or three stunt doubles is hardly of any interest compared to the question of how the camera moves when it comes to the rest of the scenes. More often than not, spectators will find themselves exploring Natalie Portman's back, her unmistakeably fearful frown, her sullen face, her beseeching eyes and, most interesting and exciting of all, the camera will often honour the audience with a few details concerning Nina's visions— so much so that you shouldn't bother if you suddenly find yourself wondering apprehensively at whether what you have just seen has actually taken place within the reality of fiction or has, in fact, happened within the premises of Nina's very particular mind. A matter of fact Vs fiction... Or perhaps of fiction within the facts of yet another fiction?
THE "DORIAN GREY PATTERN": THE CORRUPTION OF THE SELF
In any case Black Swan is hard to be strictly defined as..."X". Some may perhaps paraphrase it as the story of "the role that killed the dancer", or "the artist who was taken by the part", or even as "the artist whose soul got poisoned by a main role".
Surrounding the character of Nina there is that of a frustrated ballet dancer, her own overprotective mother, played by Barbara Hershey.
The influence exerted by her mother as well as the influence exerted by her own mates and director at the ballet will gradually turn Nina into a more self-centred yet dissatisfied-with-herself human being struggling to survive in a world she is tied to and which wishes it would make her perfect. As the tale unfolds, the spectator will easily spot several traumas affecting Nina's mental health: she not only has surreal hallucinations of herself and others but also she reacts to them unconsciously.
Although Black Swan may be hard to define, it could definitely be read as a film comprising the concepts of dicotomy and extremes: BLACK & WHITE, FACT & FICTION, GOOD & EVIL, SANITY & INSANITY, FRUSTRATION & SUCCESS, MEDIOCRITY & PERFECTION, and others. They are not alternate pairs but existing combinations, two ends of the same tether, the extremes that so have been living within ourselves and rendering our own human existence a fascinating process of duality and oxymoron. Black Swan is doubtlessly a must-see before the Oscars this year.♦ ♦ ♦
Interesting Links & Sources (in order of interest?):
Photos: Google Images.