When I first started hearing the buzz about this psychological thriller, I was completely intrigued. In the film Natalie Portman plays Nina, a ballerina who spirals into paranoia and insanity within the pressure cooker world of the New York City Ballet. She is cast as the Swan Queen in a modernized retelling of Swan Lake. She's under intense pressure from her crazy Mother (Barbara Hershey) who is living vicariously through her daughter's success and she is being pushed to embrace her dark side (the black swan) by the company's manipulative and slightly pervy director (Vincent Cassel). The arrival of another ballerina and rival (Mila Kunis) is a the final element that pushes her towards her metamorphosis. The more that this "sweet girl" embraces her dark side in the pursuit of perfecting the role, the more she becomes lost in the dark side of her mind and falls prey to the insanity that was clearly within her to begin with.
Watching the trailer...
...it was clear this was not going to be a lighthearted/easy to watch film. Not that I'd expect much less from the director who brought us Requiem for a Dream, which I've never been able to make it through. Rather, Black Swan is an intense physiological thriller with a dash of horror elements for good measure. Although it's not the type of movie I would typically be jumping up to watch, (I think the only two psychological thrillers I've ever seen are Silence of the Lambs and The Talented Mr. Ripley) I started hearing and reading so many fascinating things about the dedication behind the making of this film that it became clear that this was a film to see.
I read that the director, Darren Aronofsky, had approached Natalie Portman about the role ten years ago when the 29 year old actress was only 19 and that she played a huge part in getting the film made. I'm guessing, "I want to make a psychological thriller about ballerinas", didn't get a lot of studio heads to open their check books. I watched a few great interviews with Natalie Portman in which she revealed that she trained for a year for the role, starting six months before the film had been financed, lost twenty pounds to accurately portray the part (you can't play a bulimic ballerina and look healthy) and learned to dance en pointe. As an actress, I am intrigued whenever anyone dedicates so much to a performance. She also said in the interviews that she believed Aronofsky was a puppet-master. He tried to create a real life rivalry between herself and her old friend Mila Kunis. He also pushed her to perform and maintain character while injured (she dislocated a rib during a lift). While on the Late Show with David Letterman she revealed that when she asked for a medic she was informed that there was no medic on set because the budget was so low, she said, "before you take away a medic take away my trailer", she obviously received medical attention but the next day her trailer was gone. In short, this just sounded like a film I had to see because, when everything... the training, the dedication, the powerful intentions of everyone involved, comes together to make something this unique, it doesn't matter if you lose sleep because it's so freaking crazy and jolting. Add in the final cherry on top which is that design team Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte made the costumes for the ballet and I'm in.
So... what did I think about the movie? I think that it is definitely worth seeing because the film is beautifully and meticulously shot (all handheld!?), acted to perfection and stunningly original. I really, really loved this movie and, although I don't think I'll be sitting down to watch it again any time soon, afterall I can only afford so much lost sleep with a newborn, I highly recommend that you go see it. I guarantee that, whether you love it or not, you will be discussing it and thinking about it! On the surface, this is psychological thriller set in the ballet world, but it's also an exploration of the tragedy of the human condition, the fragility of our minds and the damage that insecurity vs. ego can unleash.
A short interview with Portman in which she explains the "duality" and "delusion" of her character, Nina:
Have you seen it? I'd love to hear your thoughts!