Thursday, 20 October 2011

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010)

 Fig. 1. Black Swan poster.

Black Swan is a very strange film. One can never be sure of what exactly is happening, and whether it is actually happening – the film documents Nina (Natalie Portman)’s obsession with perfection and the resulting mental illness and emotional breakdown. Many of the scenes are bizarre and hallucinatory, shot deliberately close to the actors to ramp up the claustrophobia – “there seems no difference between inside and outside. Everywhere is claustrophobic” (Bradshaw, 2011). Mirrors are used in almost every shot, starting out innocuous but eventually showing uncanny doppelgangers and serving to unhinge Nina further. Forced to break out of her virginal innocence to portray the Black Swan as well as the pure White Swan in her corps’ performance of Swan Lake, Nina must break out of her (maternally enforced) childhood.

Duality is one of the major themes of the film – the fearful mirror images, the tension between Nina and Lily (Mila Kunis), a less technically skilled but infinitely more passionate dancer, Nina’s internal conflict over being both Black and White Swan, her struggles between adulthood and childhood… The film is shot in very desaturated tones, the only colour coming in when Lily is on-screen, a clear metaphor for Nina and Lily’s respective lifestyles. Nina is a broken woman from the outset, and Black Swan merely details her further descent into madness. One could argue that this makes it very difficult to emparthise with her, not helped by the fact that the film focuses more on the spectacle of her madness rather than the characterisation. “Black Swan is a film obsessed with movement, colours, sets, sound design, Clint Mansell’s clanging score and, of course, performance” (Graham, 2010). However, the film pulls off the spectacle spectacularly, so perhaps the lack of characterisation is not too terrible a thing.

Fig. 2. Nina still.

The film uses location very carefully. In the first act we see several shots of Nina on the train, a few quiet moments of repose in her hectic life. After a run-in with a lascivious man, however, these scenes are dispensed with, at about the same time the film take its turn for the bizarre. This suggests that Nina has finally lost the little link to sanity she had, and that it is all downhill from here.

Fig. 3. Nina still.

Black Swan does not seek to be coherent – that would be to lose the very thing that makes its plot. Nina’s story runs parallel to the story of Swan Lake, showing how she is becoming psychologically embroiled in the production. She sees Lily as the evil Black Swan seeking to take what is rightfully hers (the part of the Swan Queen), though “the story is told from [Nina’s] point of view, but it’s increasingly clear that she’s an unreliable witness to her own life” (Gritten, 2010). In fact, this could be said of anything in the film; it is entirely possible that, after the film has ended, Nina wakes up from a very, very odd dream.

Illustration List
Aronofsky, D. (2010) Figure 1. Black Swan poster.  (Accessed on: 20/10/11)
Aronofsky, D. (2010) Figure 2. Nina still.  (Accessed on: 20/10/11)
Aronofsky, D. (2010) Figure 3. Nina still.  (Accessed on: 20/10/11)

Bradshaw, P. (2011). The Guardian. (Accessed on: 20/10/11)
Graham, J. (2010).TotalFilm. (Accessed on: 20/10/11)
Gritten, D. (2010). The Telegraph. (Accessed on: 20/10/11)

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