Still courtesy of TIFF.
Make no mistake. Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is really stupid. But is it stupid enough? Essentially a roundabout reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake , Black Swan has Natalie Portman playing Nina Sayers, a disturbed New York ballerina whose big break comes when the company director (Vincent Cassel) casts her in the dual roles of innocent White Swan and the unruly, impassioned Black Swan in their production of Swan Lake. Nina’s exactitude and grace make her an ideal White Swan, but her prima ballerina status is undermined by the arrival of Lily (Mila Kunis), whose rough edges, coquettish demeanour, and tendency to exclusively wear black make her an obvious choice for the Black Swan.
The division of moral allegiances by colour is groaningly old hat—quite literally, it recalls the white and black cowboy hats used to distinguish the good guys from the bad in classical Hollywood Westerns—but Black Swan rockets beyond these binaries in examining Nina’s green-eyed descent into psychosis. As her rivalry with Lily escalates, and her tense relationships with her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey) and director (who, like all French ballet directors, is a frothing, predatory heterosexual) begin to crumble, Nina’s ability to differentiate between the fantasy of Swan Lake and her real life begins to slip.
But it’s only when all the hallucinatory psycho-sexual tension boils over, and Aronofsky sends Black Swan pirouetting out of orbit, that it becomes truly satisfying. It’s hardly some sublimely stupid Showgirls-meets-Suspira hybrid, but it’s probably just stupid enough.
Don’t miss The Style Notebook’s take on Black Swan—complete with an illustration by Ayalah Hutchins.
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