Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Mark Heyman
Stars: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder
The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain - These are the films that appear on the director Darren Aronofsky's list on IMDB. And now he brings us a tale about... A ballerina? This isn't an Angelina Ballerina story though, this focuses on the tale of pressure, self-harm, sex and split personalities - Welcome to the dark side of dancing from a well respected director's point on view.
This film was a shock in all aspects of cinema going. You're watching an extremely intense story that builds and builds to the point of destruction. Along with this, we see the pain and torture Nina (Natalie Portman) goes through both physically on screen with gritty scenes of pain, and emotionally through the quite unnervingly unique story. And in terms of the cinematography, it exceeds your expectations of Aronofsky's work. He takes you in detail through suffering and pleasure with intense photography and sound. It's a real shock to the system to watch, but you're prepared if you know his work previously.
Portman comes into her own. Playing a dancer who's in a warped world from her mother's incessant pestering, she strives to be perfect. But this outcome of suppression from any feeling of letting go leaves her to explode on screen in a climatic end to the film. We watch her slowly become someone else that's intimidating and genuinely frightening. Landing the lead role in Swan Lake, she has to play two very different characters - The White Swan and the Black Swan. Inevitably, she becomes this darker, more fearsome character. And the story reveals this in such a way that it's almost painful.
With Mila Kunis (Lilly) playing a happy-go-lucky promiscuous character, you begin to see the similarity, or more likely, competition between the two. They work off each other perfectly and bring alive this tale that's so remarkable you'll want to watch it over and over again. The one thing that would be stopping you from doing so is the level of gruesomeness you see. You're not shied away from what can only be described as a raw look at insanity. Winona Ryder (Beth) and Barbara Hershey (Erica) are very interesting to watch when you note these themes. Although they're not key in the lunacy unfolding, their profiles on screen provide a lot of essence which work well as the story unfolds.
What also lets the eccentricity of the events occur is the manic filming. Whilst the dancers move, they do not seem elegant, but threatening. The camera switches from side to side, flows in the action of the dancers rather than an establishing shot, and adds to the confusion of the girls on screen. The sound enhances movement of clothing which normally would be dubbed out, meaning what you're focusing on is the grind of the career. You're hearing, feeling and seeing it from their point of view. It's an up close and personal look at this life. But as there is an element of possession, you're always remained detached. The special effects build gradually, starting with a hint of the world taking over. But as we hit the end of the film, you're fully aware of what's happening to this woman.You're taken on such a ride that predicting the outcome becomes impossible.
Mixed in with this approach of showing paranoia and schizophrenia is a very personal look at sexual desires and repression. Thomas (Vincent Cassel) brings this animal instinct out in Nina which ultimate enhances the idea of insanity through a very disheartening effect. Lilly adds to this by openly being very flirtatious, bringing another element of Nina out. You watch it with a sense of disgust almost because it's not pleasure, it's a breaking down of her world.
After reading this, you're probably no closer to understanding what really the tale of this film involves, and to be perfectly honest you shouldn't know. It's such a breathtaking piece of film that you need to go in with little knowledge and come out with full appreciation for this work.
A scene from The Fountain showing off Aronofsky's way of creating an intense relationship: