This is the third Darren Aronofsky film that was in my Netflix queue and therefore the third that I wound up watching and reviewing over the course of this project. Thankfully, I was able to find it on streaming via HBO, so I was able to kill two birds with one stone?
Okay, so that’s one bad pun and a bunch of irrelevant information.
Anyway, this is the Aronofsky film, the one that garnered five Oscar nominations along with one award for star Natalie Portman. She stars as Nina Sayers, a dancer in a New York City ballet company who competes to get the coveted starring role in a unique interpretation of Swan Lake as both the characters of the white and black swan. The role is wide open because the director, Thomas, has forced the company’s current star, Beth (Winona Ryder) into retirement.
She lands the role and her story veers into very strange territory for both Nina and the viewer. She begins having hallucinations where she is being haunted by an “evil twin”, a black swan-costumed more sexual verison of herself; then, Lily (Mila Kunis) shows up as her understudy. Plus, she’s got a wildly overprotective mother (Barbara Hershey) who has infantilized her to the point where she, a woman well into her twenties, seems to be more like a young teenager.
My description isn’t doing the movie justice, because while the plot is not very complicated, Black Swan is more of a complex character study that involves mental illness and psychological horror, something that could be a complete bust if not cast well. Thankfully, it is cast perfectly, with Portman earning a well-deserved Oscar and having outstanding chemistry with Kunis and Hershey (who is full-tilt nuts throughout). If I could get away with it, I’d use this in my AP Literature class.
It also earns its reputation as far as the writing and directing are concerned. I do hesitate to outwardly praise everything Aronofsky is doing here because there are definitely significant portions of this film where the women characters are clearly being written and directed by men, and some of the plot points make me wonder if he goes into this looking to fulfill some of his fantasies or fetishes.
That being said, it’s right up there with Aronofsky’s previous film–The Wrestler–as far as the great movies so far in the 21st Century are concerned.
Buy, Rent, or Skip?