Black Swan: A Story Well Told

When it comes to books and movies, all I want is a great story told well. Today I watched Black Swan, and it is a good story told well.

It is a wonderful psycho-thriller that portrays the theme of transformation in a number of ways. I was familiar with the story of Swan Lake, which is a beautiful mythical story. In typical Russian fashion, it’s tragic and beautiful at the same time.

Swan Lake is about a girl who has a spell cast on her that traps her soul within a swan. True love is the only way to break the spell, but when her prince comes along, her evil black twin beguiles him, thus forever locking her soul within the swan. In desperation, she kills herself, is released from the curse and is transformed.

In this film, the telling of the story is what makes it great. The story is not unique – pretty young virgin, evil spirit casts spell, spell can only be broken by true love, a dirty double cross, where suicide is the outcome.

What makes this film awesome is that it tells the story in two different ways simultaneously. It is about a ballerina vying to be the swan queen in the dance company’s production. At the same time you see the main characters of the film embody their counterpart in the story of Swan Lake. The film is dark and has explicit sex scenes in it. I’m not a fan of gratuitous sex/nude/violent scenes, but this story can’t be told without them.

The shy, girlish understudy has to parallel the white swan. And the dark side has to come out, depicted literally in the film by the sprouting of feathers, and the loss of innocence. The film uses various manifestations of mental illness, including, bulimia/anorexia, OCD and psychosis (this is the sprouting feathers part) to transform the human character, which parallels the swan queen in the ballet.

The break with reality personifies the duality of her ballet part(s) on the stage. In order to “lose herself” she has to commit homicide, but since she has lost her mind, the person she actually kills is herself. So just as the swan queen dies, so does the ballerina. There’s also a lot of themes intertwined with the self-loathing and narcissism of performers. A very skinny Natalie Portman won best actress for her role, rightfully so. It’s a big kids movie, but well worth the two hours to watch a well told story.