As we were watching Darren Aronofsky's latest film, Black Swan, my girlfriend turned to me and said, "She should kill her mother." I chuckled softy (we were in a movie theatre, after all), and said, "Yeah, like in Carrie." This was early on in the film and both comments were said in jest, but as the story progressed, I realized that Black Swan actually paralleled Carrie in some important ways.
Whereas Brian DePalma's film, based on a novel by Stephen King, told the story of a young girl undergoing a metamorphosis triggered by long-delayed sexual maturation, Aronofsky's piece details the changes undergone by a woman finally experiencing an overdue sexual awakening. More importantly, both The Black Swan and Carrie are about the loss of control, even as control is being sought and quite possibly within reach.
Aronofsky is no stranger to such themes. Both Pi and Requiem for a Dream showed characters struggling with a loss of control brought on by obsession and addiction, respectively. In Black Swan, we follow Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballet dancer tasked with the role of both the White and Black Swans in a reimagining of the classic Swan Lake. We get the sense that Nina is at a turning point in her career, one that dictates that she either make her mark or fade away. The show's choreographer (the superb Vincent Cassel) lets her know that her future is dependent on her ability to let go, to get in touch (literally, even) with her passionate, sexual id. Nina's struggle with her darker side is made all the more real, and all the more frightening, by the arrival of a new, wild and unpredictable dancer named Lily (Mila Kunis).
It would be easy to view Black Swan as a simple examination of the struggle between the good and the bad, the light and the dark within all of us. A struggle for balance. Or it could be seen as a study of the differences between craft and passion, learned skill and innate talent. Again, a struggle for balance. But Aranofsky shows us more than banal duality here. In Black Swan, every female character of note is an aspect of Nina's personality--developed or not. Nina is the pure, fragile White Swan, yes, and Lily is the darker, surer Black Swan. But what of Nina's mother (Barbara Hershey--not quite as crazy as Piper Laurie, but just as creepy in her own way), the woman Nina might become if she doesn't finally learn to let go; or Beth (Winona Ryder), the woman Nina might become if she does?
Aronofsky continues to find interesting ways to demonstrate obsession, passion and madness through visual means. A fantastic scene near the end shows Nina morphing into her inner Black Swan, the darkness internalized for far too long, now breaking free and breaking through. It's all quite amazing. However, I didn't feel that the director had, in any meaningful way, topped what he had accomplished in the past. Though Black Swan is, by far, my favourite of Aronofsky's films thus far, I never felt that its creation was much of a stretch for him as a filmmaker. He is comfortable here, he known territory, re-mapping the breakdown of yet another fictional mind. He flexed his muscles and tried a few new things in The Fountain and, though it didn't quite work, I appreciated that. I look forward to Aronofsky entering truly uncharted territory with his next project, The Wolverine. The culture shock shouldn't be too great for the filmmaker, given Logan's own internal struggles with a darker self...