Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Movie Review: Black Swan (2010)

Year Produced: 2010
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Producers: Ari Handel, Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Brian Oliver
Written by: Andres Heinz

Natalie Portman - Nina Sayers
Mila Kunis - Lily
Vincent Cassel - Thomas Leroy
Barbare Hershey - Erica Sayers
Winona Ryder - Beth MacIntyre
Benjamin Millepied - David Moreau


Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is an aspiring ballet dancer who always aims for perfection, and works hard in perfecting her moves. She dances with a prominent ballet academy/company in New York City, where she resides and grew up in a single parent family. Her own mother, Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey) was also a former ballet dancer who gave up her own dancing career when she was pregnant with Nina.

As Nina's company opens up a new season of the ever popular Swan Lake, the theatrical director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) announces that they are looking to select a dancer to play the Swan Queen. The role of the Swan Queen is to be played by one single person; and she must be able to portray the grace and elegance of the White Swan and at the same time, the dark side of the Black Swan.
Despite the rigid requirements to play the Swan Queen, many vies for the role, including Nina, as this is a breakthrough role for their dancing.

Being the perfectionist she is, Nina practises hard but she did not perform quite as well during the audition. However, determined to get the role, Nina sought Thomas and asked him to reconsider her in the role. He showed a lack of enthusiasm and even pointed out that Nina has the qualities for the White Swan but she lacks the passion for the Black Swan. Then Thomas forcibly kissed Nina on the lips; which she returned with a bite on his lips.
Her move surprised Thomas who was happy that she had shown an aggressive side, and chose Nina for the role.

Thomas made an announcement in a party; that Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder), former star dancer is to retire and will be replaced by Nina, the angry Beth confronts Nina after the party.

However, shortly after, Beth was hit by a car which Thomas believed was a suicide attempt.

Meanwhile, Nina was elated to finally land the role, and starts practising so extensively that it started to worry her mother, who thinks she had started to lose herself.

However, Thomas continued to be critical of her dance moves and told her to loosen up a little. When Thomas started asking her about her sexual experience during their private conversation session, Nina started to feel uncomfortable but Thomas told her that she needed to learn to relax and let go of being perfect all the time.
As Thomas put it, sometimes perfection is to let go.

Thomas then told Nina about another dancer; Lily (Mila Kunis), whom he mentioned exhibited the qualities of the Black Swan, in her free-spirited character and Nina worries that Lily would replace her in her role and practises more intensively. She started experiencing weird happenings; where she saw her evil self staring back at her in the mirror and also herself being wounded and bleeding profusely.

Lily then tried to get to know Nina, but the latter was not too friendly as she viewed Lily as a competitor and was skeptical of her intentions. However, when Lily asked Nina for a night out and loosen up a bit, Nina accepted, although reluctant at first.

They went to the club and had a few drinks, and Lily introduced a capsule to Nina which she mentioned could make her feel better for a couple of hours but Nina refused. As Nina exits from the restroom, she spotted Lily putting the capsule into her drink and after Lily assured her that the effects are only for a few hours, Nina accepts the drink. She went home with Lily that night, drunk, much to her mother's rage and keeping her mother out of her room, she ended up having sex with Lily in her bedroom.

The next morning, Nina woke up alone and was late for her rehearsal. When she arrives at the studio, she marched up to Lily whom she spotted was already there and blamed her for not waking her up. When Lily told her that she spent the night with another man she met at the club, Nina realized that she imagined the whole scenario the previous night. Nina was also annoyed that Lily thought that she fantasized about her.

Nina started to hallucinate more and she kept seeing her evil self appearing in the mirror, and also herself being wounded most of the time. At the same time, her insecurities continued to grew and she was suspicious of Lily all the time. She saw Lily and Thomas having sex, and was evidently upset. She then visits Beth in the hospital, and was surprised to see Beth seated in a wheelchair and stabbing herself repeatedly in her face.

When her mother starts voicing her concerns over Nina's recent stress, it led to a huge argument between mother and daughter and Nina fainted. Concerned over her daughter's mental and physical health, her mother decided to stop her from going to the opening night of the Swan Lake and called the company to inform that Nina was not feeling well.
When Nina came to, she was frantic and had a row with her mother and rushes to the opening night.

Everyone was surprised to see her appearing, and Thomas informed her that he had already appointed Lily as the Swan Queen but Nina insisted that she is fit to perform the role. Thomas then allowed Nina to reprise her role, though rather reluctantly.

When Nina appeared on the stage, she appeared to be doing quite well in the first act. However, when she was being held up high by her prince (Benjamin Millepied), she started hallucinating and saw everyone humiliating her, causing the guy to lose grasp of her and she fell to the floor. Humiliated, Nina burst crying at the backstage and Thomas was furious, but Nina blamed the whole incident on David, the guy who held her.

Nina rushed into her make up room to find Lily seated there, and telling her that she will be the one to play the Black Swan, Nina rushed and shoved her aside, into the mirror. Lily then transformed into Nina's evil self, and Nina stabbed her with a shard of glass which she picked up from the broken mirror pieces on the floor.
Terrified over what she had just done, Nina hides the body in the closet and rushes out to perform.

As she was performing the Black Swan's dance, wings started sprouting behind her hands and she is finally transformed into the Black Swan.

Her astounding performance won her a standing ovation from the audience at the end of the act, much to her pleasure. She rushed towards Thomas who was complimenting her performance and kissed him on the lips, much to his surprise.

As she prepares for the final act, Nina went back to her make up room to put on her make up for the White Swan and she was shocked to see the blood seeping through the door from the closet. She covered it with a towel and continued to put on her make up. When she hears a knock and opens the door to see Lily, who came to congratulate her on her splendid performance, she was surprised and checked the closet after Lily's gone where she did not see any blood nor corpse.

She then realized she had imagined the whole thing and then discovered that she had stabbed herself in the stomach.

Holding a brave front, Nina still proceeded to go out to the stage for her final act and as she was about to act the scene of the White Swan jumping to her death, Nina saw her mother crying and smiling at the same time among the audience. She jumped beautifully, and ended the Swan Lake in a grand manner. Thomas rushed out to congratulate her, along with the other ballerinas, and they realized that Nina was bleeding. As Thomas assured her that she will be okay, she whispered, "I felt it. Perfect. It was perfect".

Christy's Review
A very dark and intense movie about ballet, and how one's obsession with perfection could drive her to the edge of sanity. I give my thumbs up to this great script, artistic direction and the astounding performances of the actors who took part in the movie. It is no wonder the movie being nominated for several Oscar awards.
I can say that this is one of the few Oscar nominee movies which turned out to be really good and I was taken with the bold approach taken to portray a graceful and gentle art of the ballet dance into its dark side, where obsession and the strive for success becomes insanely frightening.

Natalie Portman, stretched thin (literally) as she worked hard for the role in real life, proved that her hard work was worthwhile as she shone as the star of this award-winning movie. Mila Kunis was not too bad either although her role in the movie was more of a supporting one and was rather minimum. Another one which deserved mention was Vincent Cassel, who played the instructor/director threading on the thin line of being professional and at the same time, sexually harassing his students to success very menacingly, and contributed to the dark side of the movie in general. Winona Ryder made a short appearance as the fading glory of the former swan queen who turned bitter at being phased out in the company.

Likes about the movie:
The genuine expressions of Natalie Portman in demonstrating her frustrations, anxieties, stress and the desperate need to succeed and be perfect makes one feel intense to the extent of gripping the chair while watching her. She definitely deserved to be the Best Actress in her role; or even for the Best Performance by a leading actress.
Also, the ballet performances deserved a mention as the cast were also backed up by a group of professional ballet dancers from an academy. Their contribution made the overall movie convincing in the ballet arena and was stunning.

Dislikes about the movie:
Perhaps there were certain parts when the camera tend to dim and flicks too quickly to another scene, which makes me dizzy while watching the movie. Also, the atmosphere and lighting in Natalie's house and also the ballet studio tends to be too dull; I know it's supposed to be an intense and thrilling movie, but that doesn't mean the lights have to be so eerie. Perhaps a warm glow would make it more realistic?

My verdict:
Watch it, and enjoy Natalie Portman's performance which was one of her best. In fact, she won the Academy Award for her performance in this movie which clearly states the obvious reason to watch this.

Facts to know about the movie:
1. The movie was nominated for five Academy awards; Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Actress, Best Film Editing, and overall, Best Picture of the Year.

2. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis had worked hard for the movie, and even lost lots of weight to fit into their roles.
Natalie's weight loss was quite apparent in the movie, I am sure many would have noticed.

3. Natalie Portman, besides her impressive academic records, does know ballet and that she performed 80% of the ballet dance scenes in this movie. She learnt ballet from the age of 4-13. Before the movie was filmed, Natalie went back to training for a year in preparation for her role.
Now, what else did we miss from this amazing actress? She is definitely one of my favorite actress, and who said entertainers/celebrities have nothing except glamour on their records?

Rating: 4/5

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