“The only person standing in your way is you.”
When I first came across the film “Black Swan”, I was under the impression that it was simply a more complex and modern retelling of the classic Ugly Duckling fable from childhood. However, Black Swan is most definitely not your typical Cinderella story. In fact, it is far from it. Do not be fooled by its reputation as a mainstream film and a seemingly docile plot involving ballerinas, and be prepared to be blown away by the one of the most intense and complex psychological thrillers ever made.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky in 2010, better known for his earlier psychological drama Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, who each received prestigious awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actress for Portman, for their respective roles as Nina and Lily. The film is about a young ballet dancer who strives for perfection, only to be faced by numerous unsurpassable obstacles and also an almost equally matched rival competing with her for the lead role of a ballet production. Before you begin thinking that this is a typical film that has the perfect resolution, let me address to you that it is certainly not so.
Black Swan is an extremely dark and morbid film that requires many re-watches and analysis from different perspectives to fully understand the thoughts and underlying themes of the film that the director had in his mind aims to accomplish in the film. The mise-en-scene of the film is beyond impressive, everything that appears on screen has been intricately micromanaged in order for the audience to delve into the facets of the main character’s disturbed mind, mainly the imagery with mirrors to establish Nina’s skewed perception of the world, and the duality of her psyche.
The stunning cinematography of the film by DP Matthew Libatique won several awards, and rightfully so, with every jaw-dropping move of the camera accurately reflecting the mood of the scene and the mind of the character while being aesthetically pleasing. Libatique’s work in Black Swan is stark in contrast to his previous work on Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, in which he uses snorricams among other techniques to create a claustrophobic world for the drug-fuelled protagonists. His versatility and ability to photograph two entirely different films with completely dissimilar moods truly make him an extremely talented cinematographer.
As mentioned earlier, the film explores on the theme of duality as we watch how the protagonist, Nina, struggles to be the best on one end of the spectrum, by being the innocent, well-disciplined ballet dancer, embodying the “White Swan”, and also on the other end of the spectrum, the wild, crazy and carefree “Black Swan”, this pursuit of perfection in all facets of her career eventually led to the complete crumbling of her mental state, as foreshadowed brilliantly with disturbing imagery. Lastly, the film also sheds some light on the state of the entertainment industry today. Nina gave up almost everything she had, from her happiness, her time, and even her body and mind, just for the lead role of a ballet production.
Despite the film painting Nina as an emotionally disturbed individual, Aronofsky still manages to raise a very important personal and relatable question- If you were given the chance to be recognised as the best in your field, how much would you give up for it?
By: Hayley Lim