Image courtesy of FilmGrab.
As with any great work that appears to be wholly original, Black Swan actually hides its influences plain sight. This film owes a lot to Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue (Darren Aronofsky had even lifted a scene from that film shot for shot to remake in Requiem for a Dream, with Kon’s permission), and the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus).
The first time I saw this movie I drowned. I was lost in it, seeing too much of myself in it, caught up in the breathlessness of the colors, all soft pink and white and blue, mixed with the stark lighting of the stage, muted through the camera lens. Caught up in the expressions on Natalie Portman’s face as she gets the role and she falls apart. Caught up in Tchaikovsky.
The camera stays so close to the back of Nina’s head, following her as she walks down streets, into the company, and around the stage. The audio mix focuses on the dancers’ breathing, and the footsteps are kept audible until the very last scene, when they are drowned out in Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music, but Nina’s breath is still audible.
The film is not subtle. It is melodrama and Hitchcock and fairytale and horror and maybe a little ridiculous. But that adds to the experience. What is the point of art if it cannot push and make things bigger, more beautiful and more frightening than they really are?
The second time I saw this, I got chills through almost the entire last act. The bodies in the movie are so visceral even as they are fantasy, the sounds and visuals so planted in the real world (the thud of a pointe shoe on a hardwood floor) that the otherworldly (the stretch of skin as it goosepimples and metamorphosizes) becomes real as well. The audience’s mind is tricked and consumes everything as part of their world, too, and the music of Swan Lake becomes the soundtrack to Black Swan as well. Tchaikovsky’s compositions underplay a scene and add new meaning to it that the composer might have hinted at but never directly intended.