Only two films have managed to make me even a little bit interested in ballet. The first was Billy Elliott and the second is Black Swan. Black Swan is more impressive because it is actually about ballet and has plenty of the dancing and art involved. What makes it so accessible is because it is also about obsession and holds a fantastic performance from lead Natalie Portman.
Portman has shown she is a great actress but arguably it began with this role. She throws herself into this performance and seems to undertake the gruelling regime required to be a ballet dancer for real. Black Swan successfully shows the lengths that are required to succeed in this business, from the damaged toes, nasty injuries and ultra-competitive nature of the auditions and shows.
That is the second aspect of the story. This is a film about obsession and how it can consume you. This is where the use of ballet works very well, and particularly Swan Lake, is it mirrors the conflicting sides within the innocent and fair Portman as the show and what she is required to do slowly consumes here.
For obsession to work, there must be a competitor and it comes in the form of Mila Kunis. Before Black Swan Kunis was known more for her comedy roles but here she shows a darker edge. She represents the other side Portman must become and the way the two actresses play off each other works very well and develops the required tension.
This isn’t just a simple story of competition and Aronofsky sells the decline into madness of Portman very well. It is a film of confusion and hallucination and you are never quite sure what to believe or not. The imagery used can be quite graphic and bloody and some moments are used to effectively shock and give that edge which the character and her story requires.
As a demonstration of obsession, Black Swan works very well but won’t show anything you haven’t seen before. It is a dark decent into madness and uses ballet to convey this well but there are plenty of other films that use the same style and imagery and in some cases, do it a lot more successfully than it has been done here.
Overall, Black Swan holds a great performance by Natalie Portman as she throws herself both into the world of ballet and the world of obsession. It is a story which tells a clear story about the decent into madness and lengths people are willing to go to but doesn’t necessarily do anything too new or ground-breaking.
Rating – 4
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