By Gregg Buczkowski
It is not very often that the phrase "Ballet thriller" is followed closely with "Masked serial killer" but Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan is just that. Black Swan stars Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers, a supporting member of a major New York City ballet company.
As with any successful artist, Nina's life is completely consumed by dance. Her dedication has kept her living with an incredibly over-bearing stage mother, wonderfully played by Barbara Hershey, who has done her best to preserve Nina's innocence. Mysterious wounds and a bathroom stall purging are quickly shown to establish the physical toll that dancing is taking on Nina. The company's first performance of the season is a reworking of Swan Lake that features Nina successfully auditioning for both the pure white swan and the wicked black swan. The naïve grace of the white swan proves a perfect match for Nina's precise steps. The conflict lies in learning how to let go and bring out the raw passion in the black swan.
The film establishes most of the turns the plot will take in the first twenty minutes. The genius of Black Swan lies not in the story but in the pacing. Starting off slow, Black Swan gradually builds and builds with each scene increasing the intensity on each conflict until it reaches a breathtaking climax that left the entire audience stunned still well after the credits began rolling. Aronofsky fully submerges the audience into the creative process.
The major antagonist of the film is found in the newest addition to the company. Lily ,played by Mila Kunis, is everything that Nina is not. Sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll best sum up Lily, who of course can dance the black swan effortlessly. A major factor in the growing intensity of the film is the impressive visual displays of Nina's waning sanity. As her only real threat to the lead, Lily, works as a catalyst to Nina's psychological state managing to inspire both paranoia and a jealous desire. Nina's (of course French) choreographer, played by a menacing Vincent Cassel, uses his strong personality, in particular his sexuality, to further push Nina out of her good girl persona. The very strong supporting cast helps Portman complete the role of a lifetime, showing one of the most moving transformations in film in a long time.
Black Swan serves as a great companion piece to Arononfsky's previous work, The Wrestler. In fact they were originally conceived as one movie that was to illustrate the striking similarities between two worlds on opposite ends of culture. Both films show their heroes truly suffering for their art. Black Swan shows the uphill climb of a subtle "High art" while The Wrestler shows blunt "low art" of a washed up WWE type fighter restoring his legacy. For this reason the two films should be seen together as the result is greater than the sum of its parts.