Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is as brave and provocative as it’s made out to be. More than a daringly modern interpretation of Swan Lake, this film is a psychological funhouse mirror that plunges both its lead and its audience into a terrifying distorted reality that is both chilling and erotic.
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a dedicated ballerina currently resigned to supporting roles in her ailing troupe’s productions. She lives with her overbearing mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), a former ballerina who aborted her career rather than her child. Erica pours her latent resentment and failed aspirations into her daughter which does nurture Nina into a skilled dancer, albeit a repressed one.
When the company’s director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) declares that the new season will feature Swan Lake and that they will be casting for the role of Odette due to the (forced) departure of their aging prima ballerina (Winona Ryder), Nina is thrilled. Her technical proficiency lands Nina the coveted part of the White Swan but Thomas is unconvinced that she possesses the darkness and sexuality needed to embody the Black Swan.
Meanwhile Nina is befriended by her understudy Lily (Mila Kunis) who is as sensual as Nina is rigid. Lily seemingly materialises when Nina feels out of her depth, like a siren calling out to a tired soul. Lily is almost feral in her lubricious attempts to open up Nina’s body and mind, a manifestation of Nina’s emerging Madonna-whore complex.
Thomas attempts to do the same thing during rehearsals. He sticks his tongue down her mouth and uses his magnetism and position to seduce Nina multiple times. Yes, he is a creep and yes, he is repulsive but even then, the audience understands that what Thomas does also partly serves as a legitimate creative purpose.
As Nina is immersed in all thoughts carnal and rebels against her mother’s carefully constructed image of her, she is compelled to metaphorically and literally destroy or defile her dollhouse perfect bedroom, filled with stuffed toys and other symbols of childlike innocence.
Note that while her dreams, haunted by feathered monsters, may seem nightmarish, they are not nightmares. Nina always dances with the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart and never the heroic Prince Siegfried. When she has a surreal lesbian encounter with the hedonistic Lily, she not only enjoys it but she visualises that she’s having sex with herself. Her mind is fractured and desperately wants to embrace the darkness within her.
As her mania envelops, Nina hallucinates gruesome physical changes to her body. Excruciating rashes, nails falling off, webbed feet – imaginary or not, they denote Black Swan’s essence. It’s a film about sexual awakening, identity crisis and giving yourself up for art. It’s an alternately haunting and mesmerising commentary about transformation.
Narrative ambiguity may leave the audience wondering what was real and what was not, but the more important question to be pondered is this – if the price of creating brilliance is your own destruction, is it worth it?
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini is 24-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for MetroWize Asia.
Hidzir was the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.
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