Black Swan [Blu-Ray]
Director : Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay : Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin (story by Andres Heinz)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : Natalie Portman (Nina Sayers), Mila Kunis (Lily), Vincent Cassel (Thomas Leroy), Barbara Hershey (Erica Sayers), Winona Ryder (Beth Macintyre), Benjamin Millepied (David), Ksenia Solo (Veronica), Kristina Anapau (Galina), Janet Montgomery (Madeline), Sebastian Stan (Andrew), Toby Hemingway (Tom), Sergio Torrado (Sergio), Mark Margolis (Mr. Fithian), Tina Sloan (Mrs. Fithian), Abraham Aronofsky (Mr. Stein), Charlotte Aronofsky (Mrs. Stein)
Darren Aronofksy’s Black Swan, a psycho-sexual thriller about the horrors of artistic perfection, is a strangely effective companion piece to Aronofsky’s last film, The Wrestler (2008), a bittersweet drama about an aging, physically exhausted pro wrestler battling both his inner demons and his dwindling professional prospects. Like that film, Black Swan takes place in the highly competitive and insular world of a specific performance art, in this case ballet, although Black Swan is set at the beginning of a burgeoning career, rather than the end. Aronofsky maintains many of the same stylistic traits in both films, including grainy, handheld camerawork and a recurring visual motif in which the camera follows closely behind the protagonist as he/she moves through various spaces, although Black Swan is a more deeply subjective film that constantly blurs the line between external reality and the protagonist’s increasingly tormented psychological experience. It is, in essence, Repulsion set in the world of professional ballet
The story is told through the eyes of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a young woman who dances for the ballet company at New York’s Lincoln Center and yearns to land the leading dual role of the Swan Queen and the Black Swan in the company’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. However, as she is frequently reminded by the company’s impresario, an intense, sexually magnetic, and utterly arrogant Machiavelli named Thomas Leroy (Vincet Cassel), her technical perfection, earned through hours and hours of relentless practice and determination, comes at the expense of emotion and passion. Nina’s moves and technique are precise, but she cannot lose herself to the character, especially the evil, seductive Black Swan, which runs contrary to her inherent innocence and naïveté. Her desire is largely kept to herself, as she is kept in relief from the bickering, petty dancers with whom she works, whose world of artistic competition was first explored on screen by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in The Red Shoes (1948), one of many cinematic backstage melodramas that Black Swan can’t help but invoke.
The screenplay by a trio of first-time scribes (Mark Heyman, who co-produced The Wrestler, Andres Heinz, and John McLaughlin) relies heavily on the doppelganger conceit introduced in Swan Lake, and Aronofsky’s use of Tchaikovsky’s music to score much of the film further blurs Nina’s life on and off stage. Her immediate double is Lily (Mila Kunis), a sexually provocative new dancer who first catches Nina’s eye on the subway and later disrupts her audition for the lead role. Where Nina is shy, anxious, and repressed, Lily is sensual, voracious, and outspoken; thus, it is not surprising that their friendship develops via the intertwining of Lily’s aggressiveness and Nina’s curiosity. However, Lily’s behaviors begin to trigger Nina’s paranoia, especially the fear that Lily is vying for her role and will find a way to replace her, just as Nina replaced the company’s former star (Winona Ryder), who was recently forced into retirement due to her age. Nina’s fragile subjectivity is also reflected in her mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), a controlling former dancer with whom she still lives and who continues to treat her like a child, putting her to bed every night in a frilly pink bedroom and micromanaging every element of her life. Erica’s psychotic tendencies are barely repressed behind a veneer of motherly caring that frequently cracks into Mommie Dearest-style tantrums and attempts at total control.
Just as she plays two separate roles on stage, Nina starts splitting into her own versions of the Swan Queen and the Black Swan, which are visually literalized in a series of nightmarish moments in which she affects various physical changes, whether it be her skin rippling into bumpy gooseflesh or her legs suddenly cracking backward into bird knees. Recurring marks on her back may be a rash, or they may be the result of her unconsciously scratching herself, or they may be the physical manifestation of her emotional transformation. Separating the physical, the psychological, and the fantastical becomes its own game while the film toys with the question of who Nina truly is. Is she the innocent waif surrounded by wolves, or is she a wolf whose true nature has yet to be drawn out? Is she being corrupted, or simply revealed? By the time the film moves into its third act, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate reality from psychofantasy, although the idea that Nina is being manipulated by everyone around her, particularly by Lily and Thomas, remains a tantalizing possibility.
Aronfosky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who has shot all of Aronofsky’s films, including his feature debut Pi (1998), the powerfully disturbing Requiem for a Dream (2000), and his muddled romantic fantasy The Fountain (2006), know how to spin a head trip, and Black Swan works its way to a startling crescendo via a carefully structured build-up of visual anomalies, beginning with near subliminal movements in Erica’s creepy paintings of her daughter and breakdowns between Nina and her mirror image. It’s a thrilling build-up that commands your attention and gets under your skin, as does Aronofsky’s clear understanding of the squirm-inducing nature of what Anne Billson called “insidious little globs,” those small moments of film violence that resonate with almost everyone because we have all experienced some version of them (the film generates immense stomach churning with a cracked toenail and an imagined scenario in which Nina tries to pull a hangnail and ends up pulling off a strip of skin several inches long).
The idea that the story is a projection of Nina’s growing psychosis gives Aronofsky a great deal of latitude in sound and image, although he never loses sight of the underlying emotional turmoil. Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance is central in this regard, just as Catherine Deneuve’s was in Repulsion, as she moves from being a near-child to a possibly murderous psychopath without ever losing our sympathy. Her frequently stunning performance draws us into her crumbling worldview, with each of her breakdowns making her both more vulnerable and more terrifying. It’s a tricky balancing act, and it defines the film’s calculated move toward potential narrative incoherence. Yet, regardless of your understanding of what is “real” and what is not, Black Swan never waivers from its depiction of the demands of true perfection in art, and the only real question is whether it has taken Nina both body and soul.
|Black Swan 2-Disc Blu-Ray + Digital Copy Set|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 29, 2010|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Encoded on a 50GB Blu-Ray, the high-def digital transfer of Black Swan is a first-rate presentation of the film that looks exactly as I remember seeing it in theaters. Shot on 16mm with Arriflex cameras Black Swan has an intentionally grainy, vérité look that is nicely maintained in the digital realm. You can still see plenty of grain in the image to give it a pleasantly filmlike appearance, but detail and sharpness are still strong, allowing us to see all the gory nuances in the more horrific moments. Black levels and contrast are excellent, as are the colors, which are primarily desaturated. The lossless DTS-HD 5.1-channel surround soundtrack is likewise first-rate, with great depth and nuance in the musical score (much of which comes from Tchaikovsky) and plenty of activity in the surround channels to open up the physical spaces and also emphasize the varieties of sonic weirdness that suggest Nina’s increasing psychosis.|
|Black Swan Metamorphosis is an excellent 49-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that is divided into three chapters about preproduction, principal photography, and the special effects, both make-up and digital (this last chapter is particularly intriguing as it reveals just how much of the film incorporates digital compositing you probably never noticed). It features interviews, both during and after production, with director Darren Aronsofky, cinematographer Matthew Libatique, producer Scott Franklin, editor Andrew Weisblum, writer Mark Heyman, production designer Therese Deprez, actresses Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, and prosthetic make-up effects artist Mark Marino, among others. There are also a series of shorter, two- to three-minute promotional featurettes, including ones about the nature of ballet, the film’s costumes, and production design. In “Cast Profiles,” we get featurettes about Natalie Portman and Darren Arnonfsky, as well as a pair of “conversations” between the two of them. In addition, there are five episodes of Fox Movie Channel Presents, which are five- to six-minute profiles of Portman, Aronofsky, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey, and Vincent Cassel.|
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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