Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Swan Scores

The allure that comes with the supposed inner darkness of the female mind is an odd one. Maybe being a female myself – a species historically deemed prone to insecurity and fragility – I understand the fascination with…well, a broad who just can’t seem to keep it together. In all seriousness though, it’s like the car crash you decide to look at, the fascination with supernatural stories that you don’t really believe in but want to hear, and in this case – the interest in a film about a young woman, pushed to her limits, shoved into accepting her inner demons.

Black Swan, which I expect to be one of the most highly talked about films of 2011 (it was released on December 17, 2010), is this kind of enthrallment. Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past few weeks, you absolutely know what you’re getting yourself into when you settle into your theatre seat for this one (I don’t suggest popcorn past the first 20 minutes, it won’t be appetizing). You have heard the words used to describe the Golden Globe-nominated film – psycho-sexual thriller, strong sexual content, extremely disturbing images. However, our favourite girl next door Natalie Portman leads the plot, so how bad can it be? Well, without humiliating myself or spoiling too much, I'll say that it has it's moments - trust me.

Darren Aronofsky's melodramatic storyline follows Nina Sayers (Portman), a young ballerina part of an esteemed New York City ballet company who is desperate to shine but often overlooked because of her sweet and quiet demeanor - traits that can probably be attributed to the wrath of her bizarre and overprotective mother (Barbara Hershey). The opportunity arises when she is cast into the role of the swan princess in the famous ballet “Swan Lake,” a production about a white swan who falls in love, only to have her love stolen from her by the black swan. Nina is pushed to her limits to embody the behaviour of both the innocent white swan and the vicious, sensual black swan by her hyper-sexual but brilliant coach Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). Nina also meets Lily (Mila Kunis), a naturally loose and dangerous dancer who Nina is fascinated with, but highly threatened by. To pull her into the role, Leroy constantly doubts Nina’s ability to find her black swan, telling her to dig within and release the dark, to “lose” herself – further encouraging the delicate perfectionist to morph into both characters. The film progresses along with Nina’s entire descent into a demonic darkness, all for the sake of reaching her ultimate goal – “to be perfect.”

Now, this movie was everything I thought it would be and a little bit more in terms of extreme sexuality and disturbing images. I found myself shielding my face and cranking my head in shock and confusion about a dozen times, and of course, one of the most famous indicators of what an audience should be expecting, scared of and dreading – comes through in the music.

The soundtrack, assembled by Clint Mansell (whom Aronofsky has worked with before on The Wrestler and Requiem for a Dream), is an absolutely jolting and haunting score. Mansell uprooted the original music from Tchaikovsky's ballet, creating a similar but radical and backwards sound. If you watch the film a second time, you'll be able to quickly and readily pick out the instruments used for specific effects. A feminine piano and triumphant strings during Nina's happier moments, dark and crashing horns reveal her inner demon, haunting ballet strings build as her black feathers sprout, and wind instruments blow cold to reflect Nina's introspective struggle with understanding what's happening to her. It is an eerie and sombre score, with moments that throw you back along with your fear of your own mental demise.

The music successfully follows the film around, lingering like the ghost that lingers within the main character. It's the most effective score (without being one that I would recreationally listen to) - in that you, like Nina, also start to question what else hides in the dark corners. Like her psyche, the music seems simple and traditional, resembling a romantic classic ballet - but the dark orchestra and chilling momentum is actually representative of something so much more. Go watch the film, it sets the stage for 2011.

Portman finds her dark side

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