Usually this time of year the theaters are littered with potential Oscar winners, but things have been pretty unimpressive lately. Maybe that's why Black Swan is really standing out in the crowd and getting a lot of well deserved hype.
Black Swan is directed by Darren Aronofsky, a director well established in making films about deep obsession and it's inevitable destruction. This film is about a ballerina named Nina (Portman) who is struggling to shed her angelic and childlike persona to perform the role of the "black swan". She is a real life "white swan", so to speak, and needs to learn how to let go in order to give a perfect performance as the lead in the ballet.
The film is being touted as a modern retelling of Swan Lake, and even a character within the film says exactly that in case you miss the point. There's a lot of this overt subtext going on (which I realize is an oxymoron) but somehow it works in this film. It is definitely a Swan Lake story in general theme and characterization, but instead of love being a central theme, it is more about NIna's metamorphosis into the black swan. The idea that the same ballerina always plays these two very different characters (one pure and one carnal) is used as a vehicle to force Nina to deal with her repressed carnality.
Bottom line, this is an excellent film. Natalie Portman is fantastic, as are all of the supporting cast. The score is haunting and critical to the film, especially as a hint to Nina's key moments of complete unraveling. Not sure when she's hallucinating? Listen to the music. Artistically stunning, Aronofsky does some really interesting things alternating between beautiful and terrifying, which is impressive. The visual indications of Nina's transformation are truly unique, and some of the more horrific scenes are particularly unsettling.
The ending is bold and abrupt. Nina goes completely mad under the pressure of being principal dancer and hallucinates that she murders a fellow ballerina named Lily (Kunis). In the film, Lily represents an already perfect black swan. She's uninhibited and everything Nina needs to become in order to give her best performance. Killing Lily ultimately accomplishes this, but it is later revealed that she didn't kill Lily at all. In fact she stabbed herself and at the end of the ballet, now back in costume as the white swan, Nina dies on stage, both in character and in real life.
Black Swan is most definitely not for everyone as it is very explicit in Nina's exploration of the carnal, but it is undeniably a well executed and interesting film. I give it 4 out of 5.