Swan Lake is story so overdone in ballet that it has all but lost its effectiveness as a story, which is unfortunate as the story is quite good. It tells of a young princess (the white swan/swan queen) who falls in love with a prince, but is turned into a swan and only love can break the spell. Then enters the black swan, her evil twin sister, who steals the prince from her. This is all a straightforward fairy tale so far. However, Swan Lake is true to life rather than fairy-tale, as the black swan is successful in stealing her sister’s love, and so the swan queen kills herself in the final act. It is a quite powerful tale, and understandably overdone in exactly the same way. Darren Aronofsky, however, does not exactly follow the norm.
Anyone who has seen a true Aronofsky film (Pi, Requiem For A Dream) knows to expect a certain level of discordant insanity. However, in those two films, both early works, a certain level of finish is lacking from the final product, like a fine piece of silk with a slight stain leftover from before it was dyed. Aronofsky is older now, and having built a reputation, has garnered the ability to use more talented, or at least well known, names to fill the roles in his movies. Thus enters Natalie Portman. Sometime criticized as being playing to the Academy a bit much, no one can honestly refute her talent, regardless of role choice. She’s done enough contrasting roles to etch herself into film history, going back as far as Leon: The Professional. In Black Swan, she, in an Oscar-worthy performance, truly embodied both the roles of the White and Black Swans, eventually killing herself just to reach perfection, showing that one cannot reach perfection without selfless sacrifice. Fearing for both her life on the stage and her true life, she becomes consumed with the idea that Lily (Mila Kunis) is trying to strip her of everything she has worked for.
Aronofsky has a certain uncanny ability to take scenes that might otherwise be perverse and turn them into impressive expressions. He uses a striking combination of the senses to produce a near perfect effect. He’s demonstrated this in each of his movies, with for example, in Requiem For A Dream, the mother’s insanity and hospitalization coupled with her son’s loss of his arm from heroin addiction and his girlfriend’s self-destruction from heroin addiction. In Black Swan, he plays on the latent sexuality and seduction from the original Swan Lake, pushing it into the forefront with an extended sequence of Nina, the swan queen, (Natalie Portman) attempting to find her inner Black Swan through “self-gratification”, ultimately leading up to her embracement of her inner lust through Lily, the black swan, in an intensely erotic scene between the two in Nina’s bedroom the night before their first stage rehearsal.
In this film, Aronofsky too the raw power of his older work and combined it with finesse, fitting for a tale about the exact same struggle. I’m weary to give this an A+, but I really want to, so I’ll just let it straddle the line.