Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Black Swan

Directing such projects as Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky's films are never easy for most people to consume, and as expected, Black Swan is no different. Nina, a skilled ballet dancer, is granted the lead role in a "Swan Lake" production, and we watch as her obsession of perfecting the role ultimately destroys both her body and sanity. Judging the trailers before seeing the film, my assumption was this would be Aronofsky's unique take on the horror genre. In a few ways, I was right, but not exactly.

What differentiates this "Swan Lake" from others, says Thomas Leroy, the ballet director, is not only will Nina play the character of the White Swan, but she will also play the role of the Black Swan as well. The play is extremely allegorical, so naturally  these two characters are entirely opposite. Nina has the role of the White Swan in the bag, as she herself is a living representation of the character. It's filling the role of the Black Swan, and her director's constant harassment for her to do so, that drives her over edge.  Leroy knows Nina needs to make drastic changes in order to fulfill the role of the Black Swan, so he constantly attempts to bring her into dark places. In other words, he gropes her, and tells her to go home and touch herself.  At the same time, Nina's common dream of being "perfect"turns into an unhealthy obsession, and the fact that it appears that her body is slowly, yet steadily changing or mutating due to an unknown cause is not very helpful either. It is Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina's ballerina rival, who is arguably the cause of Nina's slowly, but surely disappearing innocence.

I was also expecting, conclusively, for Nina to overcome her fears and break free of her director's grasp, all while mastering her both of her roles in the play. Again, I was wrong. Leroy takes Nina under his wings, and treats her as if she is his one and only girl. Only, she meets his last "one and only", who was once the best talent around, until Nina came along, and he dropped her. It is painfully obvious that Leroy is only using her to create a successful play, but she chooses to ignore it. We soon learn that every "supernatural" or disturbing thing that Nina has suffered or witnessed, from her mutation to her evil reflection were all indeed hallucinations, symbolizing her "transformation" into the Black Swan, or rather her fear to do so.

In terms of cinematography, the film is beautifully shot. Aronofsky's familiar camerawork is not absent here, which is absolutely not a bad thing. Aronofsky has such a talent that he can make the simplest actions make you cringe at the edge of your seat, such as clipping one's fingernails, because of his intense close-ups and use of sound and music. When asked if it is Aronofsky's intent to make the audience uncomfortable, his response was "I definitely want to make them feel something. I'm inspired by the Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island, where I grew up. It is the greatest ride in the world. I've always tried to construct my films with the same structure: intense, on the edge of your seat." Mission accomplished, sir. 

In the end, Black Swan is clearly about the tragedy of Nina. She is so determined and dedicated to master her art that it ends up claiming her own life. Despite this, her last, dying words indicate that she has no regrets. This can't help but bring up the question if it really is a tragedy that this woman has literally given her life to live her dream, or if the fact that she had to give her life (and innocence) to live her dream is the tragedy itself.