Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Black Swan

Aronofsky does it again. This time with greater grip, passion and spectacle. The Black Swan, in all its intensity took me on a journey of dangerous ambition, hateful competition, and disturbing mental trauma seen through the eyes of the victim - a ballerina.

Who would think the petite form of the ballerina could be turned into a bloody nightmare that haunts, disrupts and even kills? Nina Sayers, played by Natalie Portman is torn between her most private insecurities and her ambition to get the lead role of the Swan Queen. Personifying the conflict of good and evil in Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake”, Nina needs to fight the demons in her head that make her lose her mind. She sees competition in Lily (Mila Kunis), who has the qualities that she lacks, the sexuality and seductiveness that is required to play the black swan. Nina is a perfectionist, but only in technique. She can carry off the role of the white swan beautifully, but lacks the emotion and spontaneity that will carry the character of the black swan.

The pressure only mounts with Nina’s mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), who dreams of her daughter’s success, and lives to see her become a great dancer. She is strict when it comes to discipline and performance. Her character also has hints of dark shades right in the very early stages of the film. Although she acts as Nina’s support system, she strangely also drives her to desperation and fear. The other voice that increases Nina’s need to be perfect is her dance teacher Thomas Leroy (Vincent Casel), who with his autocratic hand, pushes her to bring out what she lacks most - her sexuality. He gives her exercises that will help her discover herself and get more comfortable in her skin. Nina simply does not know how to handle this. How will she free her mind and repressed body, amidst the leering eyes of her mother who allows her no freedom?

Nina’s darkest fears translate into a living nightmare where she confronts what she sees the way her mind perceives it. Her world overturns when her dance takes over the air she breathes, the movements she feels and the voices that she hears. She sees herself in everything that haunts her. Her face becomes her fear, when it reflects itself at the most unexpected moments. Will she become the force that drives her to perfection? At what cost? And whose?

The movie is replete with Aronofsky style camera angles and movements all the way. His signature style of walking along with the character in quick successive steps especially reminded me of his earlier film Requiem for a Dream. Like how Jennifer Connelly leaves the apartment and walks out into the lift and out into the rain, Nina too, after a horrific sight, walks devastated towards us, as the camera moves with equal pace and urgency as her. This I find a unique experiment in Aronofsky’s cinematography. Also in this movie, the camera swirling and dancing around Nina as she finds her way across the performing space lends to a spectacular visual treat.

The soundtrack is one of the most dominant forces that lead the film. The background score by Clint Mansell takes the movie to a level that speaks the turmoil of Nina. Like in all other Aronofsky films, Mansell has delivered the best, bringing out the theme, the tune of emotions and the physical moods of the characters.

In a mix of genres, the Black Swan hits you somewhere but you are not sure where. It merges what you see and what you believe to have seen. It takes storytelling to a different level where the character’s quest to prove herself becomes the biggest threat when it overtakes the stability of her mind. It wipes out all doubts of unlikely possibilities because what our heart feels may not always be what our mind sees. It is a complex game of reality and dreams, an exploration into the deepest and darkest abysses of oneself and the fight to overcome the numbing pain. Like The Wrestler, here too there is the passion for a career, and beating all odds to find true happiness in doing what one loves most. But not without conquering a war that will take everything out of you, even your sanity.

Not everything needs to be explained with a practical reason. Neither does this ending. Watch The Black Swan for its beauty, tragedy, intrigue and exhilarating passion.