Sunday, December 5, 2010

The BC Review: Black Swan

Perhaps one of the flicks I was most excited about seeing this year, Natalie Portman's Black Swan, was none other than an ultimately thrilling, and very dark portrait of a prima ballerina plummeting her way down her own personal rabbit hole.

In case you haven't heard about this one, don't worry - you are not alone. Black Swan is in limited release, largely circulating among the "Indie" crowd. Honestly, I'm not sure why - it seems the film has enough twists and turns (literal and figurative) to please most audiences.

Black Swan is the story of Nina Sayers (played by Natalie Portman) a prima ballerina in NYC competing for the coveted role of the Swan Queen in the ballet classic "Swan Lake". Upon attaining that goal, she finds herself coming apart at the seems, physically and emotionally. And this is where it gets really good. The film mirrors the story of Swan lake, the story of a princess who is turned into a swan (the White Swan) by a spell. The spell can only be broken by her true love. But of course, there's a twist, her prince is seduced by her evil twin (the Black Swan) and upon learning of this, the White Swan realizes she can only be free in death and thus commits suicide.

I won't spoil the film for you, but suffice it to say - Nina begins to connect with both the White Swan and the Black Swan and must find a way to live both sides of her personality. The genius of the film hinges on this point, Nina's duality - both good and evil - co-existing within one person. The director really takes this to a whole new level as we see Nina battling her own psyche (sometimes in some shocking scenes) and interestingly developing the physical characteristics of the swan.

Natalie Portman (best known for The Professional, The Other Boleyn Girl, and Closer) is one of Hollywood's best kept secrets. Her roles tend to be far and few between, but when she makes an appearance she jumps head first into her role! Her role as Nina Sayers is no different; Portman purportedly studied ballet for a year in preparation for the role (both body and mind) and lost over 20 pounds (a sizable amount of weight for the petite actress). Not that I want to focus on the weight loss so much, of course, it definitely shows, but it is the way she transforms into Nina -vulnerable, fearful, striving for perfection to the point of physical and mental anguish.

A lesser known actress, Mila Kunis (catch her in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Date Night, and the voice of "Meg" in Family Guy) plays Lily - Nina's sometimes friend, sometimes nemesis. Lily is everything Nina is not; sexy, natural, and uninhibited, making for a formidable rival to the virginal Nina. Not surprisingly, Nina starts to believe her worst fear - Lily will take the Swan Queen role from her; ultimately replacing her. I think each of us can connect with this idea - someone wanting to replace you - your dreams, your accomplishments, your life... it's a scary prospect.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention Barbara Hershey's visceral role as Erica Sayers, Nina's mother. Erica is tense to the point of horrifying, desperately trying to protect her daughter, while at the same time mourning for her own long-lost ballet career. Adorned all in black, with her hair tied securely in a bun, Erica represents the "what could happen" scenario for Nina; falling out of the spotlight and plummeting into darkness.

As I mentioned, due to its limited release you may have to dig a little deeper than usual to find a listing near you (but, believe me, it'll be worth it). Black Swan comes recommended for thriller fans seeking an out-of-the-ordinary flick with a talent for both beauty and the grotesque!

The Bee Charmer Review rating: A-