Movies We Like
Once again, Darren Aronofsky has stunned us with another story about a person trying to make it to the top. I will admit that Requiem for a Dream is still my favorite, but his touch is evident in this film and in The Wrestler. One might not consider Requiem for a Dream to be a movie about achieving greatness, but it certainly is. The mother, the son, his girlfriend, and their mutual friend, are all trying to get back in touch with the person they were in their prime. They aren’t necessarily about age or youth, but the time when the characters were most fulfilled. The Wrester tackles the same thing, where a washed up wrestling star tries to prepare for a chance to get back in the ring. Black Swan is the story of a soft-spoken, prudish ballerina who attempts to get to the top without using sexual favors; choosing to focus on perfection and grace. The present prima ballerina of her company, Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder), is being pushed out of the limelight and a fresh face is being scouted for their winter performance of Swan Lake. Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is hoping to be that fresh face. Her mother (Barbara Hershey) is an overbearing, retired ballerina who has been pushing her daughter to be the best and sheltering her naivety in an unsettling way. She gets the part and is overjoyed at the news of playing the Swan Queen. However, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), the director, worries that she won't be able to lose her inhibitions in time to pull off both sides of the role.
Swan Lake and the fantasy tale of The Black Swan both have a lot of history in the world of ballet. Aronofsky's film merges the two in order to create an emphasis on one character being both the hero and the villain, or more or less, her own enemy. When Nina begins to rehearse for the part, a spunky new dancer named Lily (Mila Kunis) comes to the company. While her form leaves much to be desired, her sensuality sparks interest in Thomas. The main reason her dancing is so alluring to him is because Nina's is so reserved. He believes that she dances the White Swan perfectly, but when it comes to the dance of the evil Black Swan, she fails to seduce. Nina becomes obsessed with Lily and sees her as a direct threat, not only in terms of the leading role, but also in terms of their director's affection.
The movie then dives into Nina's psyche, which would look like a glittery labyrinth if it were a physical thing. From the arrival of Lily till the end, every sequence is through her point of view and highlights both her pure and evil intentions. With her struggle comes a dependent relationship on both Thomas and Lily, and the downfall of her already unsteady relationship with her mother. While her world is falling apart, so is Beth Macintyre's, which makes her sympathize with the discarded star. The battle of her good and bad pursuits and the quest to tap into her sexuality eventually pushes her over the edge and has devastating results for everyone around her.
One of the things I like most about Aronofsky is his use of symbolism from other movies. There was a scene in Requiem for a Dream where the mother is alone in her living room and her refrigerator (she's starving herself to fit into a red dress) begins to taunt her and the room fills with people chanting "feed me, Sarah." That scene is a direct homage to Liquid Sky, where a group of people are pressuring Margaret to perform fellatio on her rival Jimmy and everyone is chanting "do it." Likewise, this film pays homage to The Red Shoes. Besides the fact that both films have Swan Lake in them, there is an exact scene that I'm referring to. Nina angrily enters her mother's studio and notices the obsessive paintings she did of her on the wall. The paintings begin to speak and move, and she rips them off the walls. In The Red Shoes, the dancer glides though a series of walls that represent her life. Colorful artwork falls off the walls and, later, a piece of paper becomes animated. People sometimes frown upon homage, but I think it's wonderful and allows people to track down these other works and give them the appreciation they deserve.
The movie was satisfying for me because it captured the catty and grueling life of a ballerina and the pageantry very well: the restricted diet, the retired mother living vicariously through her daughter, the competitiveness and frailty of the women. The character development was superb, especially the emphasis on Nina's relationship with her mother. There are times where the two seem like a married couple, mainly because her mother's doting ways are almost erotic. I will admit that I found some of the surrealism to be a bit overdone and flashy. In my opinion, Aronofsky's work has held up well based on his directorial talents with the actors and the use of color and music throughout the films. I could have done without some of the special effects and was really pulled in by the character, Nina. Besides that, this was a very interesting thriller and a great theater experience. I don't make it out to the theater often, but Black Swan was worth the trip.
Black Swan won an Oscar for Best Actress (Natalie Portman). It was nominated for an additional four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing.