Darren Aronofsky has quite a reputation for forcing the audience to the brink of paranoia with such finesse that it's hard not to admire his dexterity. He did that in his cult film Requiem For A Dream several years ago, and his latest film Black Swan is no different either.
Black Swan pitches an innocent ballet dancer in a difficult situation, where she has to face her darker side to acheive what she desires the most - perfection. And in typical Aronofsky's style, the film sucks us into the middle of all the action in no time. Who knew that a simple story which revolves around ballet-dancing could be this visceral and disturbing!
Natalie Portman stars as Nina, a dedicated ballet dancer who's chosen to play the Swan Queen in the Ballet company's new version of 'Swan Lake'. Nina is perfect for the role of White Swan, who is beautiful, fearful and fragile. However, her manipulative director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) casts her to play both White Swan and her evil twin the Black Swan.
Meanwhile, a new dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) makes her way into Nina's life, and soon, Nina fears that Lily is trying to replace her as the Swan Queen. Nina's personal life is no fairytale either, especially with her overbearing mother trying to control her life. Driven by her zeal to be perfect, Nina slowly loses her mind while trying to personify the Black Swan and trying to cope up with the intense pressure, both physically and emotionally.
The extremities of ballet-dancing form a perfect setting for revealing Nina's journey as she goes through the physical torture before she mesmerizes the audience; splintered toe nails and cracked bones are, seemingly, a common case with ballerinas.
However, what makes the journey all the more harrowing is Nina's loss of innocence as she breaks down from the pressure, and starts having hallucinations.
The film's biggest strength, apart from a spellbinding performance by Natalie Portman, is an intensity that never drops till the end. Matthew Libatique's stunning cinematagraphy and Clint Mansell's evocative background score pitch the film somewhere between a pyschological thriller and a heart-breaking drama. Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin, who wrote the screenplay, and Andrew Weisblum, the editor, compliment Darren Aronofsky's nerve-wracking depiction of Nina's journey to be perfect.
Natalie Portman's Oscar-winning performance as Nina is the heart and soul of the film. It's not clear why Nina begins to hallucinate in first place, but her transition from innocence to evil is stunning, to say the least. Natalie's performance in the final act of the film, especially on the stage, makes the film nothing less than an edge-of-the-seat thriller.
Mila Kunis is good in her supporting role as Lily, who unknowingly drives Nina to madness. Winona Ryder makes a cameo as Beth, who's being replaced by Nina. Vincent Cassel is brilliant as Thomas, the director of the ballet company, who pushes Nina too hard to make her the perfect Swan Queen.
Black Swan is scary and creepy at times; but it's the unwavering intensity that makes it a must-watch, at least for Natalie Portman's sake. It's not everyday that you walk out of a theatre with goosebumps, and it happens only when a film is perfect. Which Black Swan, well, almost is.