What Went Right: Black Swan
By Shalimar Sahota
July 27, 2012
Black Swan features Natalie Portman getting it on with Mila Kunis. It doesn’t get any more right than that. Cue scintillating word-of-mouth and mammoth box office returns. End of story. I could end the argument there, but initially Black Swan was not an easy sell.
Director Darren Aronofsky always has a tendency to choose difficult subject matter. He has mentioned how just like his previous films, Black Swan was also hard to finance. Along with Cross Creek Pictures, Fox Searchlight backed the film, raising a production budget of $13 million. Fox also distributed it in the US. Looking at it from a studio’s point of, who’s going to want to see a film that revolves around ballet? In retrospect, the real question is who would have thought that a film revolving around ballet would end up earning over $300 million worldwide? Before going further I will say that there are a few spoilers.
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina who we see throwing up more than we see her eating. Dancing with a New York City ballet company, she’s been chosen for the lead role of the Swan Queen in their production of Swan Lake: The New Take, playing both the White Swan and the Black Swan. However, upon receiving the role, things start to get a little weird. Her director/choreographer (Vincent Cassel) pushes her to the limit in an effort to bring out the passion required to play the Black Swan, while a new dancer for the company, Lily (Mila Kunis), causes Nina to suspect that she could end up losing the role to her rival.
Aronofsky has so far always made original films. He says, “Unfortunately, studios don’t want to pay for most of the ideas we have. They’re too out there. They don’t know what box to put them into.” It’s quite difficult to shoehorn Black Swan as a particular type of film given that it’s so wonderfully out there. As both a hindrance and benefit to its success, it would be tough to gain funding for such a film, for upon completion it can also be an issue in trying to get people to see something so strange. Yet, Black Swan’s festival screenings created such a huge buzz partially because the film is so unlike anything else.
The basic gist of it involves Nina struggling to get to grips with the role of the Swan Queen, notably the pressure of playing the Black Swan part. Possibly afraid to become something which she is not, she is also afraid of Lily taking the role from her. She starts imagining things that are not happening and soon Nina finds herself turning into a swan. The premise sounds so ludicrous on paper that chances are it probably had a better chance of being made as a low budget B-movie.
Shot in 16mm, mostly handheld and (with the exception of one day) using just a single camera, it looks more like a gritty documentary and less like a film. The look adds to what realism there is and enhances the serious tone.