I recently watched the last film by Darren Aronofsky Black Swan. Having seen The Fountain, which I was not keen on, I was a little anxious about this one. I did however want to what the director who intended to adapt Noah was receiving such applause for.
Black Swan is a film that concerns ballet. Natalie Portman plays aspiring dancer Nina who hopes to be cast as the Swan Queen. Her teacher thinks she’d be perfect as the innocent White Swan but hasn’t got the passion and wildness for the Black Swan. He gives her a chance anyway, encouraging her to entertain the wild side.
What follows is a study of obsession. At the start we see Nina is dedicated to her craft in such a manner that her body pays the cost. Her feet must be well shaped, her form light and beautiful. She is a perfectionist and technically she is superb. The film follows her as she tries to become the Black swan, a being which is seductive, natural and not poised to perfection.
How she does this then is by going to dark places. Her teacher tells her to pleasure herself and soon these turn to lesbian fantasies. Constantly she becomes more emotional and rather than controlling them to deal with later as she usually does, she starts to explode. Nina becomes paranoid and suspects other dancers of wanting to take her precious spotlight. She starts hallucinating and the distinction between fiction and reality is blurred.
The performance of Portman is first class. She shows someone who becomes so devoted to their art that it consumes them entirely. The dark places they go to and obscene deeds they perform are a means to an end and rendered entirely acceptable in her mind.
At first glance I thought that this was the main message of the film; that we should watch our creativity as it could consume us and take us where we never wanted to go. On reflection however this doesn’t agree with the film, as within its context Nina’s final performance was a great success.
What I have concluded then is that whatever your art shows is what already exists within. The only way Nina could portray the Black Swan is by becoming it, which the film shows quite clearly by her descent into madness.
Another thing it got me thinking about though is the two sides of an artist’s personality. On the one hand you want to be a perfectionist and follow the perfect technique while on the other you just want to run with your idea and do whatever comes naturally. I think all artists have a leaning to one of those (I am most certainly the first, which made it easy to identify with Nina) but ideally a mixture of both is needed. It is only with the technique that we will improve but we need the confidence to try to be different to create something new. It’s a hard balance and can make you feel like you’re fighting yourself when you’re more in one camp than the other, which happens to be the one you should be for this part.
I highly recommend this film if you can stand then graphic content, as it is a great psychological drama. The direction is very good and while the script can be a little heavy handed at times, I felt that helped me feel less out of my depth in a film about ballet, a subject on which I know nothing. Vincent Cassel is also very watchable as Nina’s teacher and steals a few scenes from Portman. It is however her show and her Best Actor Oscar is fully deserved.