Black Swan

Timur Bekir 28/01/2011

Rating: 5/5

Black Swan is Darren Aronofsky's fifth feature length film and it is utterly, brilliantly terrifying. Set within the rather unassuming environment of a production of Swan Lake by a New York City Ballet company you'd be forgiven for thinking you were about to watch something a lot more serene, delicate and light. Although, if like me, you know nothing about the ballet (I went to see Swan Lake once and, because I've been weaned on a cultural diet of MTV and Schwarzenegger movies, I started to get a bit twitchy around the second act, meh.) and more about Aronofsky's films then you will be prepared for an emotional journey.

The main protagonist in the film is Nina Sayer played by the excellent Natalie Portman. She struggles to live up to her own high expectations playing the lead role in Swan Lake, a demanding role in which the lead dancer is called upon to play two opposing characters, the White Swan and the Black Swan. Her obsessive nature and already paranoid mindset combine to take Nina on a journey that sees her struggle between reality and psychosis and between fulfilling her dream or fading away 'into the chorus line'.

Black Swan feels like a classical film. Although the camera work is mainly handheld and we see the characters often in close up which is a contemporary fashion of cinema. The films themes take reference from some of the original masters of film, most notably the psycho-analysis of Hitchcock and the deranged horror of Polanski. (I'd also mention here Powell & Pressburger's The Red Shoes but if I'm honest I haven't actually seen it. I know, I know, save your condescending remarks until the comments page please).

The role of the overbearing mother (a staple of Hitchcock movies) who refuses to let her child (in this case Nina) grow up is played with spine-chilling conviction by Barbara Hershey. The obsession with looking, voyeurism and the self are all dominant themes. Mirrors are used not just as an iconographic tool to help propel the narrative but take on character traits of their own as Nina's mirror image morphs, transforms and threatens, taking us deeper into the horror of Nina's psychosis.

The mirror also takes on a Lacanian significance as Nina becomes increasingly aware of her image, its ability or inability to dance, its flaws and its sexuality. The child like Nina repressed by her over-protective mother, starts to experience the conflict between her self and her mirror image; a dualism that is reflected in the polarity of the White and Black Swan. This increasing self-awareness allows Nina to stand up to her mother and demand that her newly developed Ego be recognised.

The use of mirrors, doppelgangers and complex choreography is also a testament to the camera technicians and production team who intelligently manipulate the camera and stage direction to create a palpable sense of edgy, paranoid hysteria.

Black Swan continues Aronofsky's run of great films. He is obviously a skilled director who consistently gets startling performances from his main stars and supporting cast. A nod of course has to go to Vincent Cassell (Thomas Leroy), easily the coolest actor working in cinema today and Mila Kunis (Lily) who is likely to dominate your screens for a while yet.

In short, Black Swan is a blistering melodrama that combines a classy, classic sensibility with all the trade mark Aronofsky stylistic techniques that make his films so exhilarating to watch. Don't wait for the DVD go see it now.