When ballerina Beth MacIntre (Winona Ryder) is fired by stage director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is chosen to take her place. Leroy hopes for Nina to be Swan Queen in the upcoming season of his Swan Lake production. Striving for perfection as a dancer and supported by her overprotective mother (Barbara Hershey), Nina begins to lose grip on reality when rival ballerina, Lily (Mila Kunis), is cast as her alternate. Lily is a loose and emotionally driven dancer who represents the sensual Black Swan in Swan Lake. Driven by jealousy and repression, the good spirited Swan Queen explores the dark side in preparation for her performance.
Darren Aronofsky does one hell of a job directing Black Swan, his most brilliant film to date. Only a true auteur could make such a unique and thought provoking movie, a fact that hereby cements Aronofsky as an auteur. Every sequence brings beauty the screen, with help from astounding art direction and cinematography. This is essentially a black and white film shot in color, as almost everything is set up in symbolic dark and light hues. Different characters wear contrasting clothing depending on their moods and the context of the individual scene. The simple B&W emphasizes the struggle between good and evil, sets up the film like a production of Swan Lake, and shows how quickly someone can change from one side of morality to the other. On top of all the symbolism, the colors are stark and gorgeous, and give immediacy to the story’s beauty. Last but not least, the stunning dance scenes are shot mainly in close-ups, enabling the viewer to see the sweat and concentration on the dancers’ face(s). What an impeccably directed film this is!
Some of the most consistently excellent acting is found here. This is truly a career turning role for Natalie Portman, who is backed up by rock solid performances from Kunis, Hershey, and Cassel, who steal every scene they are in. Because the film is an odd cross between melodrama, horror, and psychological thriller, the actors need to bring their all, a feat which they accomplish with flying colors (or should I say blacks and whites). Although the screenplay is only slightly above average and often comes close to stepping on convention, it never truly crosses the line into the land of cliche. The near-perfect acting, direction, and aesthetic stops the film from falling into any ruts that it teeters near.
Clint Mansell deserves some much-needed love for the film’s soundtrack. The man is a brilliant and underrated composer, whose Black Swan score is haunting, melodious, and suspenseful. Each music track instills the fact that Aronofsky and Mansell are a collaboration match made in heaven.
Black Swan belongs to Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman. Its script may not be amazing, but who cares? The direction and performances are so masterful that they not only conceal, but bandage any shortcomings that a less adept film would be ruined by. This piece of art is also nice to look at and listen to, because of its pretty art direction and top-notch score. Some may call it twisted, others may call it scary; I call it bravura cinema.