Black Swan (2010): Prologue

We all know the story. Virginal girl, pure and sweet, trapped in the body of a swan. She desires freedom but only true love can break the spell. Her wish is nearly granted in the form of a prince, but before he can declare his love her lustful twin, the black swan, tricks and seduces him. Devastated, the white swan leaps off a cliff killing herself and, in death, finds freedom.

Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is a fairy tale. Or, at least it is ripe for Disney’s next animated princess musical adaptation. Is it of any surprise that Tchaikovsky wrote a ballet to the Grimm brother’s Sleeping Beauty?

Perhaps the ending to Swan Lake, as told to us by the ballet director character in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, will seem too scarring for us to consider the ballet a fairy tale but even classics like The Little Mermaid ends with the protagonist dying, ultimately committing suicide, just like Odette in Swan Lake.

In its purest and most traditional form, fairy tales are twisted, dark, gruesome, frightening, and probably not suited for children. It’s strange how the term has culturally evolved into perhaps its exact antonym. Fairy tale adaptations that end in “and they lived happily ever after” are much more frequent than those that end tragically. So even if competition for Black Swan’s title as my favorite pure fairy tale adaptation is limited, let that not obscure my unequivocal love for this film. It truly is one of the greatest movies of all time.

As is the case with most of Aronofsky’s works, and adequately stated by Entertainment Weekly, “[Black Swan] is… set to be one of the year’s most love-it-or-hate-it movies.” And although the movie critic community indeed became polarized by it, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that “most declared themselves ‘swept away’.” It landed five Oscar nominations amidst a crowded 2011 award ceremony, and surely would have garnered a sixth for original score had it not been, well, Tchaikovsky. It’s one of those films that has a limited release in North America and takes in $80,000 per theater by the end of opening weekend–the highest ever for Fox Searchlight Pictures–prompting a wider release and subsequently 300 million dollars in revenue. We’re talking about a horror movie featuring classical music and pink tutus here. It’s one of those films you don’t really know how to feel about but you have to go talk about it anyway and share the experience with your friends and family. It simply sticks, even if you would prefer otherwise. It’s ballerina meets psychosexual thriller. It’s fantasy set in reality. It’s adult Disney. It’s dizzying, unnerving, intense, brash, unforgiving, passionate, and while my review will not be able to adequately convey any of these emotions endured upon my initial viewing, I hope my review will communicate the subtle trademarks of artistry and brilliance dying to be noticed in successive watches. “I just want to be perfect,” whimpers Nina.

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