Review: Black Swan (2010)

Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller is a twisted adaptation of the famous ballet Swan Lake that blurs the boundaries between high art and exploitation film.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is consumed by her obsession of being the perfect ballerina. When Nina learns that the principal ballerina, Beth (Winona Ryder), is being let go at the end of the season, she sees an open door that could lead to hear dreams coming true. But the arrival of Lily (Mila Kunis), a naturally talented and laid-back ballerina, brings her self-esteem issues to the forefront.

Nina wins the role of the Swan Queen in the company’s production of Swan Lake, and it soon begins to take its toll on Nina as practices become more grueling and the company’s director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), plays mind games with her.As her life is ever more consumed by ballet, she begins to get more in touch with her dark side – a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.

Black Swan highlights the savageness of performance and the innumerable issues that come from an aspiration for perfection. Nina is a newcomer, her problems are all related to the inherent worry of making an affecting first impression and bettering her counterparts. The thematic elements used work together to make Black Swan feel like vital, candid and ultimately contemporary tale; almost like a culmination of the director’s masterfully distinctive filmmaking style that’s developed over the past twelve years.

Matthew Libatique’s evasive and intense cinematography beautifully captures Nina’s fracturing mental state, her delusions and perpetual anxieties, masterfully blending reality and illusion. The claustrophobia of Nina’s shattered mind is superbly transposed to the sheer, heart-pounding ebullience of the stage, capturing in detail every affliction Nina suffers in her bid for perfection, while equivalently showcasing ballet as a undeniably majestic art form.

Clint Mansell’s take on Tchaikovsky’s famous score is tremendous. Not only does the music stay true to the heart of Swan Lake, but it and adds new themes, motifs and emotions; complimenting, and enhancing, the film’s sinister nature magnificently.

Portman is truly exquisite as Nina, embodying the character of a young woman paralysed by her torturous desire for perfection desperately trying maintain a grip on her sanity faultlessly. We witness Nina simultaneously at her most exposed and her most barbaric, reaching her zenith with a sharp, enticing career-defining dance, much like Portman’s career-best performance.

The supporting performances are equally strong: Cassel wonderfully sordid as the company’s director; Kunis remarkably piercing and intoxicating as Lily; Hershey as Nina’s overpowering mother, Erica; and Ryder making the most of her limited screen-time as Beth, embracing the film’s demented nature and enveloping the mania of her cutthroat character.

Black Swan is thoroughly captivating, wonderfully shredding the human soul down to the bone and forces the audience into Nina’s disintegrating mind. The depth of the film builds up to a compelling, fantastical and veracious crescendo, the final performance, which works equally as a fitting conclusion, and as an astonishing validation of the ruthless art of perfection.

In simple terms, it’s an utterly tremendous cinematic masterpiece.

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