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Black Swan
Genre Thriller

Little so-called “Caucasian” girls generally tend to get involved in one of two extra-curricular activities… ballet or horse-riding. It’s a tradition, a rite of passage that soccer moms feel compelled to offer their little princesses. The reasons vary: they’ll look cute in a tutu, the riding lessons are cheaper than a pony, “I never got a chance to play Barbie” or perhaps mom just wants to fulfill her little brat’s every whim. Whatever the motivator, it’s a chance for every girl to dream… dress up like the tooth fairy, ride a horse over a rainbow or hell, do both! Some girls give up, some grow up and others hurt themselves again and again in the pursuit of perfection.

Mommy obviously has a strong influence over her little girl’s happiness and whether she’s a good or bad mother echoes years later in her child’s general disposition. This is the case in Black Swan, in which a little girl’s mother motivates her daughter to excel in the art of ballet in the hopes of vicariously touching that icy pinnacle she could never reach. Black Swan is a heart-breaking tale, regarded as a companion piece to Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. Both films deal with individuals locked into a specialised sport, art form or entertainment that seems dated, irrelevant and a little kitsch in pop culture until now.

Aronofsky molds his lead to literally become their character with Rourke embodying the hard-hitting lifestyle of a wrestler with a drinking problem, cleverly aligning Rourke’s own history as an alcoholic and feeding into the notion of has-been star to unearth a brilliant heartfelt performance. He pushes the repeat button with Natalie Portman, whose transition into the white swan and then the black is quite mesmerising. Not only has she sculpted her body for the part of prima ballerina, but she’s totally embraced ballet, and apart from a few close ups of someone else’s ballet shoes, seems to be in perfect control of her technique.

Ballet is all about beauty, form, grace and timing, which is why Black Swan is just so terrifying! The elusive dream of being the most beautiful little girl in the whole room is more like a nightmare in the world of Black Swan. After it’s announced that the company will be performing a revised version of that all-time favourite, Swan Lake, the claws come out as each ballerina flounders about for the lead – comprising of the sylph-like white swan and her much darker alter-ego. The key role requires a ballerina whose technique is beyond perfect, able to effortlessly capture the spirit of light and dark. The company’s star is suffering a nervous breakdown and a forced retirement leaving the lead for the taking.

Nina is a white swan, perfectly demure and graceful – yet lacking the dark seductress that is the black swan. Aronofsky peels layers from Nina like petals as she is forced to confront her sexuality and become vulnerable to the darker, sensual side of her being. To truly capture the zest of the black swan, she must grow up… shed the innocence of that little girl, break the attachment bonds she shares with her overbearing mother and become unhindered, free. However, the departure from childish innocence seems too much for the fragile girl, who wrestles with her past, her psyche, her sexuality and her fears in a swirling abyss of negative emotion.

Aronofsky swathes the audience in what seems like a downward spiral. This is the antithesis of that hopeful Hollywood underdog story. It’s sometimes a horror,  often a drama but mostly a psychological thriller taking an introspective journey with a confused little girl, whose world seems to be hurtling, uncontrollably toward her ambition of fulfilling her mother’s dreams for her and becoming a woman.

The direction is loose, yet purposefully so… characterised by swirling cameras, a shaky behind-the-scenes documentary feel with an increasing sense of hopelessness. This isn’t easy-viewing, it’s draining and quite depressing – yet done so beautifully that you can’t help but stare. Aronofsky blends elements from his previous films, bringing the format of The Wrestler and the atmosphere of Pi together. The dark, disturbing drama spins into Lynchland, seamlessly weaving dreams and fantasies  into the story without giving the audience any warning. This taut, uneasy atmosphere is where the story of Nina Sayers takes place with an “ugly duckling” becoming a “swan”.

Natalie Portman’s performance is astonishing, going beyond the call of duty to transform her physique, portraying a girl whose own character transition becomes the undoing of her self. Echoes of the late Heath Ledger reverberate as Portman conveys Nina’s fragile state and powers home in the climax, showing a girl so caught up with obsession that she has become imprisoned by her own insecurities. She’s supported by Mila Kunis, who has been well cast as the effortlessly vivacious new prospect. Vincent Cassel delivers a creepy performance as the manipulative trainer. Barbara Hershey’s dark bewitching eyes will stay with you long after the credits roll and Winona Ryder delivers a performance, which just underlines Portman’s brilliance.

Black Swan is by no means your average movie, creating a niche in almost every aspect of the film-making process. It echoes some of Aronofsky’s previous films, yet builds on these to creep into new corners. It’s a haunting, disturbing and altogether compelling experience, which for most viewers is a once-off. The range of negative emotion is powerful and the dark surge will leave you somewhat speechless. No one signs up to live someone’s nightmare, unless it’s directed by Darren Aronofsky and stars Natalie Portman. You don’t enjoy Black Swan, it has its way with you… chews you up and spits you out.

The bottom line: Dismal.

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