I have watched scores of movies in my 25 years, but only one film had ever truly moved me to tears. Baz Luhrmann’s sprawling epic Australia. During that last five minutes or so, as Nicole Kidman’s Sarah Ashley bid her heartrending goodbye to young Nahla, the gravity of the scene proved too overpowering and I was easily reduced to a ball of sobs and sniffles, sitting in that half-empty movie theatre on a balmy Wednesday evening. I am a sucker for the authentic expression of untamed emotion, whether it is projected through celluloid or some other effective medium.
Two years later, history is repeating itself in my life with the arrival of Natalie Portman’s exquisite, stand-up-and-cheer performance as the dedicated ballerina Nina Sayers in Black Swan, an excellent film that delivers an ending so endlessly moving and powerful that I could do nothing but let the tears flow.
Masterfully directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), Black Swan is a beautifully told and exquisitely acted film that boasts a gorgeous musical score and ethereal dance performances that transport you to a magical realm. Beautiful and breathtaking, psychological and challenging, the film takes viewers inside a world peopled by ambitious, fiercely competitive ballerinas who crave the spotlight.
But none are as utterly committed as Nina (Portman) who, like the consummate dance professional, lives and breathes ballet, more so as her New York dance company gears up for a new take on the timeless classic Swan Lake to open their new season. With the company’s prima ballerina (Winona Ryder) heading into ‘retirement,’ Nina is dying to assume the highly coveted position so she can finally tackle the demanding part of the Swan Queen (White Swan/Black Swan) in the production.
Beautiful, fragile and fearful, Nina easily embodies the White Swan, but in the eyes of the company’s predatory artistic director Thomas Leroy (a functional Vincent Cassel) the beguiling Black Swan doesn’t reside in her, and the part seems to be slipping away when a new rival, Lily (a pitch-perfect Mila Kunis) arrives from San Francisco. Can Nina prove in time that she has the goods to be both adorably nice and wickedly naughty?
As creative people have to accept, mastering the hurdles that block your path to self-fulfilment (and other goals) often requires that you simply let go and lose yourself completely in your art. For some, this often translates to a dalliance with the dark side. Dark impulses, after all, can be thrilling but, as the film observes, they can also lead to terrible mental anguish and, in some cases, self-destruction.