I was introduced to Aronofsky rather late in life but then, it was one of the most vivid glimpses of his brilliance. Just like his protagonist Nina (Natalie Portman), the obsessed ballerina in seek of perfection; this ace director had managed to achieve a state of flawlessness so effortlessly. An hour after watching Black Swan, the heady rush and goose bumps are still rather fresh, just like the instance where Nina Sayers transforms into the evil albeit beautiful black swan.
Nina, a passionate ballerina has been practicing perfection until Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), the director of the ballet production Swan Lake, decides that the white and the black swan should be played by the same ballerina, which in this case happens to be Nina. Swan Lake tells the story of Princess Odette, stuck in the body of a white swan in love with the Prince. But, the prince is seduced by Princess Odile, the black swan and trapped in her spell. Broken and destroyed, the white swan dies and finds solace. While Nina is the perfect white swan, Princess Odette, virginal and pure, the impulsive black swan who seduces the prince is nowhere in sight. Nina is a little too perfect to be Princess Odile, the reckless, evil twin of the white swan.
Nina’s transgression as she sets out to discover her evil side is heart wrenching and at the same time, frightening. An overbearing mother (played to eerie perfection by Barbara Hershey) attempting to preserve the sweet innocence of her daughter, Nina, is an added disadvantage. Nina’s room is a plethora of pastel pinks with stuffed toys and childish drawings, preserved rather immaculately. Nina has no life other than ballet, no boys, no parties, no friends and certainly, no sex – just the disciplined routine.
Director Aronofsky’s subtle symbolism leaves a lot to imagination and rightly so! As we journey through Nina’s contorted mind, there’s violence where you least expect it, and an all pervading madness, raging fiercely. Under the porcelain perfection, is a flawed being, waiting to get out. The process doesn’t just initiate Nina to her evil persona but also takes her on a trip to a discovery of her latent sensuality. The scene in the bathtub where she’s immersed in pleasure as she gets a glimpse of her alter ego is chilling, to say the least.
Vincent Cassel as Thomas, the suave director, the man of the masses and brutally honest taskmaster is fantastic. The impulsiveness with which he seduces Nina and brings out her hidden side is scintillating. Winona Ryder as Beth, the famous ballerina now replaced by Nina in the lead role does justice, with the right amount of brash and raw emotions at being shown the door. And, Mila Kunis as Lily, the extrovert, impulsive and highly addicted (to cocaine, sex, alcohol and cigarettes) ballerina plays perfect foil to the porcelain Nina, with her vivacity and spark. Spunky Lily matches Nina’s impassivity with nonchalance, with her mischievous eyes and ready smile. Her impetuous sexual innuendos evoke a spontaneous grin.
Black Swan belongs entirely to Natalie Portman, who is magical as mama’s girl, obsessed ballerina as well as the ruthless black swan. The tussle ensues and it is a sordidly striking moment as the black swan emerges out of Nina’s matchless perfection. And, the dance of the black swan is breathtakingly beautiful, evil, seductive and dangerous, for the prince, for Nina, for the white swan and for us, as we are trapped in its dark enchantment.
The background score matches with the mood, mostly haunting while at times, simply alarming. At the final performance, Nina tugs at our heart strings as the white swan only to transform into the disturbingly beautiful black swan. As she dies, in the ballet and in reality, she has not just found solace but also what she was in search for, perfection. As Nina slowly loses her mind in a bid to become Princess Odile, the black swan, so do we, in Aronofsky’s lyrical cinema.