Jen Yamato August 26, 2010
Darren Aronofsky has proved that he can turn any subject into a fascinating and harrowing springboard for filmic exploration, whether it’s mathematics (Pi), drug addiction (Requiem for a Dream), New Age-y love (The Fountain), or the spandexed world of wrestling (The Wrestler). For his next feat, he’ll transform the world of professional ballet into a frightening vortex of paranoia, female competition, and sexuality, with a hint of the supernatural. After our first look at the trailer, consider us already hooked.
The trailer for Aronofsky’s Black Swan begins in dark reverie as Natalie Portman’s disembodied voice sets the stage: “I had the craziest dream last night, about a girl who was turned into a swan. But her prince falls for the wrong girl … and she kills herself.”
That dream is essentially the age-old story of “Swan Lake,” the ballet in which Portman’s Nina has just been chosen to dance the lead in a contemporary New York City production. But “Swan Lake,” as aficionados know, is a dark tale of duality and heartbreak in which the cursed princess Odette, forced to live her days as the White Swan, is haunted by her doppelganger, the Black Swan, and confusion between the two leads to tragic ends.
With that reference in mind (and as the faint tinkles of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” theme give way to a moody, menacing score), the trailer for Black Swan gives us a glimpse into what Aronofsky really has in store.
Replacing her dance company’s older prima ballerina (Winona Ryder), hardworking Nina prepares for her big break as Odette in Swan Lake. But despite her dedication and skill (and pressure from her live-in stage mother, Barbara Hershey) the icy dancer lacks something essential: passion.
Enter Lily (Mila Kunis), the sensual understudy who becomes Nina’s rival and appears to curry favor with the handsome director of the company (Vincent Cassel). Internal and external pressures bear down on Nina’s psyche, she starts seeing things, vases are thrown, freaky reflections move on their own in mirrors. As Nina begins to suspect that “she’s after me,” strange bumps and scratches start appearing on her back … wounds that appear to sprout wings when Nina plucks a single black feather from her back in red-eyed horror.
It’s a taut, tantalizing trailer that builds tension all the way to its horrific reveal while never letting slip the answers to Black Swan‘s big questions: Is Nina experiencing these things, or is it all in her mind? Is Lily real, or an imagined manifestation of Nina’s personal and professional anxieties?
The film reference that comes to mind is, of course, The Red Shoes, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s grand 1948 film about a prima ballerina driven mad by the role of a lifetime. Moira Shearer’s Vicky Page, like Portman’s Nina, is an aspiring dancer plucked out of the ranks by a handsome older mentor who gives her the role that will come to define her career and, eventually, her very existence. Life imitates art with disastrous consequences in The Red Shoes, which rewards its young female protagonist with professional fulfillment, insanity, and an untimely end.
But Vicky Page’s obsession with dance never transformed her into a nightmare monster a la metamorphosis or had her seeing evil visions of herself walking around town. She also never indulged in the kind of sapphic sensuality promised in the Black Swan trailer; don’t discount the box-office power of Portman and Kunis locking lips onscreen.
Good thing Portman has the range to go from fragile to paranoid to fierce, as she does in the two-minute trailer alone, and that she’s supported by equally mysterious femme fatales in Kunis and Ryder. (Watch the trailer for Ryder’s brief appearance and you’ll see what we mean.)
Aronofsky’s Black Swan debuts at this fall’s Venice Film Festival and opens in limited release in December. Can it tiptoe en pointe all the way into next year’s Oscar race?
Categories: No CategoriesTags: Black swan, Darren aronofsky, Mila kunis, Natalie portman