“Black Swan” (2010). Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder. Director: Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay: Mark Heyman, Andrés Heinz and John J. McLaughlin. Story: Andrés Heinz. www.foxsearchlight.com/blackswan/
The oppressiveness of limitation can be a living hell to endure, especially for those whose aspirations go beyond merely existing. Escaping the stifling mediocrity of such a state generally requires us to go through some profound form of personal metamorphosis (and subsequent liberation), one that may take us to corners of our being that we never knew existed (including some of a potentially disturbing nature). Such is the challenge put to the heroine of the dark new thriller, “Black Swan.”
Ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is on the verge of greatness. As an up-and-coming star with a New York City ballet company, she has an opportunity to show off her talents when she’s cast in the lead of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, a demanding role that requires her to dance two parts, that of the lovely, innocent White Swan Odette and that of the darkly sensual, guileful Black Swan Odile. While Nina has no trouble with her portrayal of the graceful Odette (she’s a walking goody-two-shoes in many respects), she struggles with her depiction of the wicked Odile, unable to let herself go and allow her earthy side to come through. This frustrates the driven perfectionist, especially when the company’s artistic director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), routinely reminds her that “The only person standing in your way is you.”
As Nina toils to release the Black Swan locked up inside her, others flock to her aid, most notably her doting mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), and one of her fellow dancers, Lily (Mila Kunis). But Nina also has reason to question their motives. Erica’s overprotectiveness keeps “her sweet girl” repressively sheltered, hampering Nina’s ability to cut loose and get into character. Meanwhile, the sincerity of Lily’s support becomes suspect when she less than subtly vies for Thomas’s attention, who at times openly expresses doubts about his casting decision. These circumstances simultaneously corrode Nina’s confidence while steeling her resolve to succeed, a volatile combination that sets her down a precarious path paved with paranoia and obsession. But, if that weren’t enough, in the midst of all this, eerily strange events begin to unfold that cause Nina to doubt her very sanity. The question thus becomes, can she hold things together enough to avail herself of this career-making opportunity, or will she crash and burn? Or is some other unforeseen outcome possible?
Novelist and poet Oscar Wilde observed that “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Curiously, through Nina’s experience, we’re presented with a story that does some of both, as if the two notions were inextricably linked, not unlike what transpires in the conscious creation/law of attraction process. The external reality she creates for herself through the internal beliefs she holds ultimately gives rise to an outwardly expressed existence that parallels those beliefs. We all essentially do that when we engage in this practice, but the defining quality that sets Nina’s creation apart is that the personal reality she manifests just happens to mirror the narrative of the artistic piece in which she’s a player. Life, it would seem, does imitate art.
Like the character of Odette in Swan Lake—a woman who, because of a sorcerer’s curse, becomes trapped in the body of a swan and is unable to fully experience all that life has to offer—Nina is herself ensnared within the suffocating confines of the self-imposed persona that has come to define her. She struggles to escape that imprisoning cocoon to explore what else life has in store, an especially pressing concern for her now that her ballet role requires her to do precisely that. She seeks the same sort of liberation that Odette longs for, but, to attain that goal, Nina must become more like Odile. Ironically enough, doing so mirrors the metaphors embodied in the ballet’s libretto, but it also poses a challenge that shakes the foundation of Nina’s self-image, not to mention her sanity and even her very existence.
Some may find Nina’s exploration of her darker side a bit troubling. However, according to the underlying principles of conscious creation, we’re each capable of experiencing all of the infinite probabilities available to us, because they’re all part of our intrinsic nature and potentially capable of being expressed. Just as the Universe has its yin and yang components, so also do we have both the light and the dark elements within us. And, sometimes, tapping into our darker side may be just what’s necessary for us to achieve our greatest accomplishments.
Passion and conceit, for instance, are often looked upon as components of our darker nature, yet both may be precisely what’s needed to ignite the emotions and self-confidence required to manifest our most heartfelt creations, including those that have the noblest and most beneficent intents behind them. These qualities frequently provide the juice that drives such creations, even if their inherent natures are tempered along the way. In fact, were it not for such qualities, some of our most magnificent materializations might never see the light of day, be they in the arenas of art, philanthropy or charity.
That’s the epiphany that Nina comes to discover through her own metamorphosis, one that results in the ultimate expression of her art, an act of liberation that metaphorically illustrates the freedom that accompanies such an attainment. We might not necessarily agree with how she chooses to express that freedom, but we can be moved by the feeling of liberation it affords.
The path to liberation can have its scary moments, too, as Nina clearly finds out. However, the greater the reward, the greater the risks we often face. Facing fears and living heroically are all part of the conscious creation process, especially when we veer into unfamiliar territory, as Nina does constantly throughout the film. But, if it weren’t for such challenges, the summit of accomplishment might never be reached. Anyone who has fulfilled a particularly daunting goal can certainly appreciate this.
“Black Swan” is a hauntingly mesmerizing movie that takes viewers on a rollercoaster ride of emotions from start to finish. The pacing is a bit slow in the first 30 minutes (not unusual for a Darren Aronofsky film), but thereafter it takes off like a shot that keeps viewers riveted to its thrilling conclusion. Portman, Kunis and Hershey are terrific in their respective roles, and the ballet sequences are beautifully filmed without overshadowing the rest of the picture. For its accomplishments, the film has deservedly been lavished with recognition in a host of awards competitions. It earned four Golden Globe nominations, including best dramatic picture, best director and best supporting actress (Kunis), as well as a Golden Globe win for Portman as best dramatic actress. Look for it to fare equally well at this year’s Oscars, too.
Taking flight is something most of us probably need to do more of. Thankfully, “Black Swan” metaphorically provides an emotionally stirring example whose inspiration we can all draw from as we seek to ascend the skies of our true potential.
Copyright © 2011, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.