Friday, January 7, 2011

Review: Black Swan

I had unbelievable high hopes for this movie -- and it didn't disappoint me at all.

Now I have to admit that I'm a huge Natalie Portman fan, and I didn't think it was going to be possible to make me like her more, but then I saw her in this movie, and fell in love with her all over again.  People, she is an outstanding actress, and she shows her true, god given talent in this movie by taking on the role of Nina Sayers, a young ballerina who wins the lead role in the production of Swan Lake.  However, through years of practice and perfection of the trade, it's not the vulnerable white swan that she has to worry about in her role... its the black swan's grip on her that she needs to worry about.

Summary of Swan Lake:
A young girl gets turned into a swan, and needs the love of the prince in order to turn her back.  Everything starts out going according to plan, but when the prince gets slowly seduced by the black swan, (white swan's sister) he falls for her, leaving the white swan crushed, and ultimately jumping off a cliff to her death. Beautiful, yet tragic.

Now Nina is the type of character that strives for perfection, and after years of non-stop practicing to be the best, her director, Thomas Leroy (played by Vincent Cassel) gives her the lead role, and quite an erotic kiss to seal the deal, to which she ends up biting his lip.  At first, I thought this was just a reaction to being surprised and put off, but I think this was the first sign of her dual personality coming through.  Viewers see two sides to Nina throughout the movie: the quiet, vulnerable, sweet girl who is the epitome of the white swan, and then the rash, self-destructive, independent vixen that is so reminiscent of the black swan. I.E. One of my favorite parts in the movie was the transformation of her skin because it brought out the horror girl in me.  We learn early on from Nina's mother that Nina had a bad habit of scratching herself as a child, so when the audience sees marks on her back, it's easy to assume that she is scratching herself again because of the pressure of the role; there is even a scene where she is in the bathroom and her skin starts to peel off...which is really gross yet wonderful!  However, throughout the entire film, we see a metamorphosis of her skin into what looks like scaly tissues-- and which at the end, start to push out beautiful, black feathers during her final performance.

Mila Kunis, plays Nina's friend Lily, who Nina is convinced is trying to take her part.  What's interesting about this relationship is that Lily is everything that Nina wishes she could be: relaxed, emotionally connected to the dance, comfortable in her sexuality, and daring enough to go out and drink and get high during her nights off from the stage.  So it's no wonder that Nina's other side comes out when she is with her...leaving the camera's to find the girls in a steamy lesbian scene as Nina locks them in her room and puts her guard down. Yet the entire time that they are having sex... when Lily looks up... Nina see's herself.

SPOILER ALERT:
Now I'll be the first to admit that I didn't figure this movie out, but now that I know the ending, I can see how all of the clues came together to show us the warning signs early on. So we have the clues that I stated above, and then when one adds in the fact that Nina catches Lily and Thomas going at it when she is at the studio late one night...it's easy to see how she can feel intimidated by her knew found friend.  Add in the fact that when she sleeps in one day, its Lily that takes her place and becomes her understudy in the performance.

The night of the performance seriously blew my mind. Naturally Nina did a great job as the white swan, so that didn't really surprise me too much, because I'm sure like myself, everyone else in the audience was waiting for her debut as the black swan. Yet when she went to her dressing room to get dressed, who was sitting in her chair and in her costume? Lily.  This set off Nina, and to put it bluntly, she ended up stabbing her in the chest, stripped her body of her costume and hiding her in the closet. She then went on to dance the most enticing, powerful and seductive choreography that I have seen in a long time.  It was if the transformation was complete, and Nina had become the evil twin...the black swan of the ballet. But... things aren't always as they appear to be.

When she goes back into her dressing room, she throws some towels on the ground to cover up the blood, and gets dressed into her white swan outfit in order to give the final performance of the night...when she hears a knock at the door.  It's Lily congratulating her on a job well done and apologizing for the squabble between.  How can this be?  She checks the closet, and nothing is there, and its not until she puts her hand on her chest that she realizes the blood, and pulls out a dagger of the broken mirror from inside her.   

ANALYSIS:
I really liked the fact that the story line surrounded itself around swan lake both in the plot and within the characters.  The dual persona of Nina, and her transformation into the black swan, physically, and emotionally, was fascinating to watch, and I have to hand it to the directors for the black swan scene.  When Portman got on that stage, and viewers got to see feathers erupting, which lead to a full set of black wings mirrored by the human skeletal shadow on the back...leaving it to all be metaphorical and psychological.. my heart just jumped from my chest.  It's been a while since I have seen a movie that I loved as much as this one, and let me tell you, when the white swan jumps off the cliff in the final performance because she lost her lover...it was perfection.  With Portman standing on that makeshift cliff, with the blood circle getting larger and larger in front of the audience, and then falling off it on the mattress, to both metaphorically and physically die... it was perfect. That's all I can really say.  Plus, her last words where that she finally felt the dance, and that it was perfect. And frankly, I would have to agree with her.

Do your self a favor and go see this movie.  You won't regret it.