Twitter Plot Summary: The slow descent into insanity of a young ballet dancer.
Five Point Summary:
1. Pressure from all sides.
2. A rival for her role.
3. Is this actually happening?
4. A fractured mind.
5. It all ends beautifully.
Black Swan started life as a sequence in The Wrestler, before director Darren Aronofsky quite rightly decided that the worlds of professional wrestling and ballet probably shouldn’t be mixed. For anybody who has seen The Wrestler, try imagining Mickey Rourke in his Randy “The Ram” Robinson in the Natalie Portman role and say that wouldn’t be a good idea for a movie.
Natalie Portman, who at times resembles an Innuendo-era Freddie Mercury (sorry, but you have to admit the resemblance is sometimes uncanny), simultaneously an adaptation and post-modern interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet. Nina takes on the role of The Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake, but soon things start to go a tad off-kilter and questions are raised as to Nina’s sanity – weird things start to happen and she sees her own face on atrangers, that sort of thing. Clearly not a healthy mind. Matters are not assisted by the arrival of Lily (Mina Kunis), representing the dark half of the Swan Queen that Nina struggles to reveal in her performances. Throw in a jealous, slightly older dancer approaching her retirement (Winona Ryder), an overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey) and a head of production who has more in mind for Nina than just an excellent performance on the stage (an always excellent Vincent Cassell) and you have a set up that is rife with potential intrigue and narrative-related puzzlement.
Aronofsky uses many of his directorial flourishes that featured in 2008’s The Wrestler, mostly by following behind a character as they walk from A to B, almost stalking the character like a voyeur. Much like The Wrestler, which Aronofsky cites as a companion piece to Black Swan, the direction occasionally has a documentary feel. Never a fan of a static shot, Aronofsky’s handheld camerawork creates a fluid, kinetic feel, and the ballet dancing we see is perfectly shot.
Whilst preparing for her lead performance, Nina also has to contend with an overbearing mother who is living vicariously through her daughter. Nina seeks perfection in her performances, but lacks passion. This leads to a recurring undercurrent of sexuality, in terms of both the good and the bad aspects it can unlock in a person – Nina also appears torn between whether or not she prefers men or women. At the same time Nina is about as childlike as it gets, her bedroom is full of stuffed toys, her passive tones ensuring she remains in her childlike state until she can “lose herself” in the role of the Black Swan.
This is a film that portrays the obsessive qualities that ballet dancers hold, showing that they are determined to get their performances right and willing to push themselves to the very limit in order to achieve this goal. It also covers quite succinctly the pressures and possible effects these might have on the mindsets of those involved, in this case Nina and, to a lesser extent, Winona Ryder’s fading star Beth. Whilst it would be going too far to say that all ballet dancers have these problems (which clearly they do not), it does at least highlight the perils of potentially exploiting vulnerable people to the point where their mental health deteriorates and they effectively snap. There’s a fragile line between creativity and insanity, and in certain circumstances, such as experienced by Nina, it won’t take much effort to cross over that line.