Genre: Psychological (Supernatural?) Thriller
Premise: A ballerina competes against a rival dancer who may or may not be another version of herself.
About: Black Swan will star drool-worthy starlets Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis and is being helmed by visionary director Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky originally tried to set up the project in 2007 but Universal put it in turnaround. Thanks to “The Wrestler” doing so well though, Portman twirled onto the project a couple of months ago and everything’s been full steam ahead since.
Writer: Mark Heyman (original script by John McLaughlin)
Details: 131 pages – March 25, 2009 draft.
Can I just tell you why none of my review matters? Can I just tell you why my review is absolutely pointless?
Because in this movie, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis have sex.
Yeah. You read that right. And not just nice sweet innocent sex either. We’re talking ecstasy-induced hungry aggressive angry sex. Yeah so…this movie is already on the must-see list of 2010. But how good is it? Does the story that surrounds the sex disappoint or excel?
Black Swan is a very intriguing story with a quiet slow burn. So slow, in fact, that I nearly lost interest halfway through it. Heyman focuses on the tiniest of things. The way shoes sound as they click against the pavement. The way a slight breeze tussles at your hair. You know how as film evolved, we’ve been encouraged to cut out all the meaningless stuff? For example, instead of showing a character walk from their house to the train, we should just cut to the train? Yeah, Heyman doesn’t do that. If someone needs to walk somewhere, we walk with them. And after awhile, it really begins to test your patience. And if you’re looking for the culprit in the 131 page screenplay length, that’s where you’ll find him. But it’s pretty clear these are the moments Aronofsky is interested in in Black Swan. He wants you living every second of this character’s life, lulling you into a sense of security so that you get used to the mundane. That way when the extraordinary happens, it slams into you like an SUV.
Nina is a ballerina in one of New York City’s top ballet companies. She appears to be the only sweet girl of the bunch however, as it’s established early on that these companies are packed with jackals, every seemingly sweet-natured princess scheming to backstab the girl next to her if only it gets her one rung higher on the ladder. High School’s got nothing on these bitches. Nina’s sorta friend, Beth, who has been the school’s running lead in all the productions, is nearing the end of her career, and everyone’s gunning to take her place in the next big ballet: Swan Lake.
The lead role is the part of Odette, the Swan Queen. The role is complicated by the fact that the ballerina must be able to play both sweet, the “White Swan,” and dark, the “Black Swan”. It is the ultimate challenge. Of course, Nina has the white swan down. But does she have the darkness to nail the Black Swan?
The director of the production is the handsome but sinister Yevna. He sees something in Nina but before he gives her the part, he wants to speak with her privately. It is there, in his office, that he pries into Nina’s mind, searching for her dark side, even going so far as to force a kiss on her. But it’s unclear whether Yevna is trying to seduce Nina or simply seeing how she’ll react. As the sweet polite girl she is. Or as the raging disturbed woman she will have to be. In the end, Nina is given the role. But it’s clear Yevna has doubts as to if she can pull it off.
As the days go by and Nina searches desperately to find her darkness, she begins noticing another girl around town and at the ballet company who looks exactly like her. But not just “exactly.” We’re talking identical. Yet every time Nina tries to get close, the girl turns away or hides her face. Finally, Nina meets this mysterious doppelganger after rehearsal. Her name is Lily. And while she definitely looks like Nina, she’s by no means an identical replica. Was it Nina’s imagination perhaps?
Whereas Nina is calculated about every move she makes, Lily is the opposite – uncaring and uninterested in perfection. Everything she does seems so…effortless. The two begin a tepid friendship, one which Nina is constantly trying to pull away from. But while she is afraid of Lily, she is also drawn to her in some way. And then there’s those strange fleeting moments where Lily looks exactly like her.
As they get closer to production, Nina’s world starts to spin out of control as Lily befriends Yevna and continues to move up the ballet company ladder. The girls will go out, get drunk, and Nina will show up at rehearsal late the next day only to find that Lily is standing in for her. Is Lily scheming to steal her role as the Swan Queen? Or is Nina making this all up in her head in order to find her dark side? That is the ultimate question.
As in all Aronofsky movies, there are some controversial moments. In one scene, Nina basically gets raped by Yevna. It’s cold and off-putting, and yet it’s an important moment as it demonstrates just how high the stakes are in this seemingly innocent world. The script is steeped in darkness (surprise surprise) and makes you feel so uncomfortable at times that you can’t read it without constantly resituating yourself.
Black Swan is an interesting read. As I mentioned before, it takes its time. But if there’s any director who knows how to make the quiet moments work, it’s Aronofsky. He’s rarely boring as a director. Much has been made of the “supernatural” aspect of Black Swan, with some even comparing it to, “The Others.” (one of my favorite scary films btw) But I never saw it that way. To me it was clear that Nina was always imagining her relationship with Lily. I never doubted that Lily was real. But I believe Nina made up the more elaborate aspects of their friendship in order to discover her dark side. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a talking point of the film after its release, which, if the film is good, will surely help word of mouth and repeat business.
As a screenplay, I thought Black Swan was good. It definitely could’ve moved faster and I would’ve preferred we get some answers sooner instead of being strung along with weird unexplained moment after weird unexplained moment. After awhile that just gets exhausting. But the feel of the story is just so original. It’s not quite like anything I’ve read or seen before. If you like your scripts dark and moody, check out Black Swan for sure.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Don’t be afraid to explore the details in your screenplay if they help tell the story. It’s okay to create mood and atmosphere. Just make sure you don’t go overboard with it. I don’t think Black Swan would have a prayer on the spec market because it’s just sooooooooo slow at times. But some movies require you to indulge in the seemingly mundane things. That’s fine if you know when to stop.
And of course, don’t forget to…