Once again, Natalie Portman (Nina) shows off her acting mettle in her recent film Black Swan, which helped her clinch the critically acclaimed Academy Award for Best Actress. You have got to admire the dedication she exhibits. The actress willingly underwent months of grueling physical training to get into her role. She's already proved that she has the acting chops in her earlier role as Evey Hammond in V for Vendetta, where she shaved her head and undertook vocal training lessons to learn how to speak with an authentic British accent. I could go on and on about how unbelievably talented and intelligent she is, but it would probably take too long so I shall stop here.
The film was disturbing, on so many levels. Benjamin Millepied (David) gave a compelling performance, and there was something innately dark and menacing about him. So was Nina's controlling mother, who was obsessed with perfection and refused to loosen her iron strong grip on her daughter. I liked how they explore the mother-daughter relationship in the form of physical movements rather than dialogue, which is fitting, given that they come from ballet backgrounds. With slight trepidation, I watched as they moved around each other cautiously, like an elaborate dance. It was subtle yet quietly chilling, with its depiction of a somewhat unnatural relationship and there were hints of a power struggle,a battle for domination.
It was exquisite to witness Natalie Portman's stellar performance as the protagonist, Nina. Portman has been quoted as saying, "I thought that was very interesting because this movie is in so many ways an exploration of an artist's ego and that narcissistic sort of attraction to yourself and also repulsion with yourself."
Fragile and seemingly vulnerable looking, she revealed the darker, terrifying facets of herself that was altogether haunting. According to sources, the movie was compared to the 1948 ballet film The Red Shoes in having "a nightmarish quality ... of a dancer consumed by her desire to dance". Mike Goodridge from Screen Daily called Black Swan "alternately disturbing and exhilarating", and described Portman's performance, " She is captivating as Nina ... she captures the confusion of a repressed young woman thrown into a world of danger and temptation with frightening veracity."
Watching the film gave me a glimpse of the reality in the dance world. How perfection is the one thing that ballerinas strive for and how they put themselves under tremendous pressure, undergoing months and months of practice just to attain that moment under the spotlight, no matter how fleeting that moment is. Once you look past the glamour and devastating beauty of the dancers and the dazzling lights of the stage, you are appalled by the sheer ugliness of human nature, and how tormented people can be. I found it ironic that in Nina's search for perfection, it inevitably led to her downfall, her self-destruction.
Black Swan is not an in-your-face horror flick. It is far more frightening and unnerving than that. It gets under your skin and slowly creeps up on you, till your entire self is seized with a cold dread, rigid with tension.
But the thing is, you can't pull yourself away from the screen, it's that riveting.