Black Swan is driven by the stunning performance by Portman. Through Nina she has created a character that is vulnerable and driven, delivered with vivid intensity and seamless subtly: A character that goes through the psychological suffering of her role as swan queen and reflects that, at heart , this is a film about Nina’s fear of reaching middle age and not gaining the success she desires. This fear is is amplified (in a manner reminiscent of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive) by the other women around her who act as doppelgangers of Nina’s fragmented psyche. Her failed mother is a stark reminder of the life that looms if she cannot play the swan queen, so too is Beth if she cannot do so lastingly. However, it is Lily that is the main threat to Nina, she not only has the technique but the feeling to back it up, an image of perfection that Nina feels she must exceed. Paranoid hallucinations plague Nina as these doppelgangers go from the imagination to the real and Nina is not only competing with these women, but with herself. Howevere, whereas all these women may mirror Nina, it is ruthlessly determined director Thomas that confronts her fragility. At times he is supportive at others critical and then seductive, he oscillates in order to make Nina feel fervent one moment and impotent the next.
Black Swan is just as exceptional behind the camera as it is on; Aronofsky brilliantly brings to life the darkness of Nina’s psyche. From the outset the camera focuses on Nina, with tight close-ups that centre the focus on her to create a claustrophobic effect. The cinematic technique mirrors the prowess of ballet; in some sequences it is sensational and then in others it is strikingly sparse. To meet the duality of the swan queen’s role, Aronofsky uses an expressionist contrast between black and white to add a visual aesthetic to Nina’s fluctuating sanity. Between the efforts of the actors and of the filmmakers it would seem they should be duly rewarded for their efforts at the Baftas and Oscars. Portman has delivered one of her finest, if not the finest, performance of her career and for that she shouldn’t feel disappointed even if she does not win anything. Aronofsky has created a stunningly visual tour de force that cements him as one of the finest filmmakers of the present day. With an uncompromising style and a body of work that is ever-growing in reputation, he takes the audience into a world not matter how distorted, destructive or beautiful.
A continual theme that runs throughout Black Swan is the bodily damage that Nina must inflict upon herself in order to meet the stringent expectations of being a ballerina. We see Nina go through the agony of chiropractic sessions and bulimia, yet there is a more sinister undertone running throughout the film. Nina continually scratches herself in a clear display of subconscious self harm that then intrudes on her doppelgangers. Moreover, scenes of bodily disfigurement take a violent turn in which Nina transforms before our eyes only to then realise it was a hallucination. Nina’s warped view of reality forces the audience to confront the question of whether what they see is an illusion and perhaps more importantly, whether any of it is real. The sense of transformation and self mutilation that Nina puts herself and others through, which reaches it thunderous peak at the climax of the film, ultimately demonstrates the fragile condition of Nina on her road to destructive ambition. And so as the final shot fades to white to the sound of the crowd cheering and the connotations of perfection emerge again, Aronofsky truly brings to life the horror of that idea.