-A Simple, Yet Perfect Plot. While many theatergoers have expressed confusion about the plot of Black Swan and what is actually happening to tortured ballerina Nina Sayers, the actual story is quite simplistic despite the jarring, hallucinatory way it’s told. When whittled down to its bare essentials, Black Swan is the story of a driven ballet dancer who wins the lead in Swan Lake. Perfect for the character of the virtuous White Swan, the ballerina slowly loses her mind as she is pushed, internally and externally, to also capture the essence of the evil twin, the Black Swan. While Black Swan has numerous characters and elements that beautifully explore obsession and sacrifice for the sake of art, and more specifically ballet, what really demonstrated its level of perfection for me was how perfectly the story is a metaphor for the story of Swan Lake itself. As the artistic director Thomas Leroy, played by the stellar Vincent Cassel, describes it:
We all know the story. Virginal girl, pure and sweet, trapped in the body of a swan. She desires freedom but only true love can break the spell. Her wish is nearly granted in the form of a prince, but before he can declare his love, her lustful twin, the Black Swan, tricks and seduces him. Devastated the White Swan leaps of a cliff, killing herself and, in death, finds freedom.
While creating a metaphor for this story is not in itself a major accomplishment, director Darren Aronofsky doesn’t settle for the predictable method in this department. Sure, Nina represents the White Swan. That’s easy. And, yes, Nina desires something, but it’s not a prince or a man at all for that matter; it’s a lead role in Swan Lake. And, of course, most of the story of Black Swan hinges on Nina’s fear that the Black Swan will steal her prince, that Lily, played by Mila Kunis, the new, sensual ballerina, will steal the lead in Swan Lake. Except, Lily isn’t the Black Swan. Using both the audience’s and Nina’s own assumptions about Lily representing the Black Swan, Aronofsky is able to mask the true ‘evil twin’ in the film until the final act. Nina only realizes in the last moments of the film that, just like the Black Swan tricks and steals the prince from the White Swan in Swan Lake, her own dark obsession and paranoia have given birth to a shadow self that has stolen her life and claimed it for its own. And, while this ending has the qualities of a Shakespearian tragedy given the torturous journey the ballerina has undergone only to realize that she was “the only person” standing in her way, the film ends with Nina’s triumphant epiphany that everything she was seeking was inside her the whole time.
-The “True Artist” Debate. While being entertained is an admirable quality for a film, it’s something that should be expected of a film that receives an Academy Award nomination. To actually deserve the award, the film should elevate beyond simple entertainment and challenge its audience in some thought provoking way. While this has not been true of every best picture winner, it is an element strongly present in Black Swan. The film ends with ballerina Nina Sayers dying, yet she appears to be in a state of euphoria telling Leroy that she felt it and was perfect. It has always been poised that the line between genius and insanity is a thin one. In the artistic world this has been seen again and again in the form or creators who walk the line, and there is a common debate in the artistic community on whether or not a sane person can create “true” art. While some may state that this film is firmly on one side of the argument by showing Nina undergoing an artistic process that breaks her sanity in order to achieve the perfect performance, I feel the film doesn’t give a definitive answer on this subject and instead asks the audience to decide if Nina’s journey was an artistic triumph in the end or an obsessive and tragic sacrifice for art... or even, was it both?
-Natalie Portman’s Performance...Wow! While I’ve never thought of Portman as a weak actor, in Black Swan the actress delivers a performance that is light years beyond anything she’s done before. Portman’s talent has always been present on screen, from her amazing introduction in The Professional to her other Academy Award nomination for Closer, and she was one of the few enjoyable elements in the Star Wars prequels. With Black Swan, Portman portrays an emotional tour de force that is sure to elevate her status with critics and Hollywood. Speaking even more highly to her artistic ability, I read reviews from a number of actual ballet dancers who are in awe with how magnificently Portman transformed into a believable, professional ballerina. I went to a college with a large ballet department, and, while, I have no real experience with the craft of ballet myself, the ballet dancers I have known dealt with the quest for perfection daily and would not throw false compliments at a second rate performance by an amateur ballerina. Portman has accomplished a major achievement in both her performance as a ballerina as well as her performance as the troubled lead.
-Why Black Swan Is Good For Fanboys! While it could be said that any advancement in film or acting is good for fanboys, both Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky are committed to major “fanboy” projects in the near future. Portman is playing Jane Foster, the God of Thunder’s love interest in Marvel’s Thor, a film that’s looking pretty amazing just from the trailers released. While Portman was a fine choice before for Foster, it seems like this is shaping up to be a big year for Portman’s career, and I’m sure Marvel Studios is just dying to add “Academy Award winner” to the film’s arsenal. While this may seem just like a shiny prize for Thor, we will have an Oscar winner or Oscar nominated actress as the female lead in a comic book movie. It’s a small, yet important, advancement in our culture’s accepting comics and graphic novels as a worthy media.
This isn’t just present with the actors, of course. Much like Marvel Studios giving Thor to known Shakespearian director Kenneth Branagh, Aronofsky is being given the reigns to what once was Wolverine: Origins 2 and has slowly morphed into a solitary Wolverine tale set in Japan, titled simple, The Wolverine. While I’m super excited that the studios are giving Aronofsky some room to play by not holding him to awful continuity in the other X-Men films and that he’ll be working with Hugh Jackman again, the real thing to celebrate here is the quality of filmmakers who are now being chose to helm these fanboy flagships! Given Aronofsky’s film career, I can not imagine The Wolverine being anything but dark, powerful, and disturbing. Oh... and awesome! While the comic book genre is debatably becoming overexposed, with that exposure comes positive advancements, like the recent choice of directors for these comic book films. It’s happening, comic-sniffers, and with a little geeky luck, today’s Black Swan will be tomorrow’s Dark Phoenix!