Let go. Maintain control. The two impulses seem diametrically opposed to one another. Letting go implies a sense of giving in to drive and impulse, but maintaining control is always portrayed as a denial of the same. Perfection is the balance between two and Darren Aronofsky’s psychological-thriller, Black Swan, follows Nina (Natalie Portman) as she attempts to find that balance in her upcoming ballet performance in Swan Lake.
The first shot of the movie is phenomenal and sets up both the surreal and phantasmic nature of movie , but also places Nina’s life squarely in the context of Swan Lake. She is the white swan- placed in the position of the pure and innocent. Incredibly fragile. It’s the first thing we see her thinking about- her ability to perform in the piece is something that is constitutive of her and her sense of being.
Portman’s performance is haunting and shows the strain and anguish that comes from the pressure to achieve perfection. She feels like a child- diverting her eyes away during conversation, whispering to herself, and crying in fear. Watching her brutal and tense transformation feels that much harder because of how well the anguish is shot and portrayed. Every injury and bruise feels visceral and hard to keep looking at. I could not stop clenching my wrists during certain tense scenes.
Mirrors are utilized with precision. They’ve always been symbolically associated with ourselves. A way of ascertaining our identity- looking into our true selves. Every scene with a mirror in this movie feels like it has a purpose- not just in a superficial “identity is multifaceted” kind of way – but as thought they represent a deep inner conflict between multiple inner selves. They also represent duality which reinforces the divide and conflict between the black and white “swans” Portman must embody.
The movie never spends too much establishing detail- there’s always a suspicion that certain things are afoot- characters are more perverse than they let on. Not focusing on the details does help create the fleeting artistic feeling which accentuates the transformative nature of the movie . Personally I liked how certain things were more open ended, but if you like everything clear cut and laid out for you- this may not be your cup of tea.
However, this does cause a weird sense of lack to develop. Certain subplots are brought up to help accentuate themes, but they don’t get resolved which makes them feel like plot devices as opposed to natural interactions. These inconsistencies also stick out more given the lengths the early portions of the movie take to make the environment “dark”.
TLDR: Black Swan is a beautiful tale of the price of perfection that will have you questioning what you’re really seeing. There are some slight narrative “forces”, but they don’t detract at all from Portman’s haunting and disturbing performance.
Final Rating: 9.4/10. If you enjoy deep character takes or movies that play with reality vs fantasy this movie should be right up your alley. I felt tense the entire film and was left speechless at the ending.
In lieu of the usual spoiler page, click here, to read my spoiler intensive analysis of the movie.