Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is one of the most complete films ever produced in terms of providing both a gripping and an enthralling experience. It employs a combination of tried and true themes and techniques while functioning as an innovator in the methods of building tension.
This film takes the rather mundane concept of ballet and applies a cast of deeply disturbed characters, which results in a dynamic where the audience is drawn into a subject they did not previously care much about. This is furthered by the superb performance of Natalie Portman, who portrays Nina, a twenty-something ballerina pushed toward perfection by her mother (Barbara Hershey). Nina and her mother have a curious relationship and often act sisterly toward one another with the exception being when her mother turns angry on a dime. This is illustrative of the most ubiquitous theme: light versus dark.
The film centers around Nina’s role in a production of “Swan Lake.” Comparable to the White/Black Swans in the drama, Nina progresses through a battle within herself, between her light and dark sides so to say. As her dark side becomes increasingly prevalent, so does her departure from reality. The transformation between her inner characters becomes so frequent that it is often not possible to distinguish between reality and delusion. This is quite reminiscent of the style of storytelling employed by director Adrian Lyne in Jacob’s Ladder. The audience is suspended somewhere between the two states not knowing if what they are viewing is an actuality.
The film is able to produce a near constant tension with the inclusion of only a few moments of cringe inducing gore. Instead, the film feeds off the established tension to produce scenes, such as the frantic use of nail clippers, that evoke the cringe sensation.
Further symbolism is apparent through the character of Lily (Mila Kunis). She serves as Nina’s foil and allows the audience to initially connect with Nina’s light side, before the darkness begins its campaign. Lily, among other characters, behaves oddly at times and causes the audience to question if the character's reality.
It’s not often that a film is able to flow so well while delivering moments of pure terror. Black Swan is a triumph of its genre and is deserving of multiple viewings.