I reviewed Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain a while back. This film came out about four years after that, and was far more successful both critically and financially. The film centers around a young ballet starlet named Nina (Natalie Portman) who wins the starring role in the classic ballet Swan Lake. What follows is a tumultuous journey into Nina’s psyche as she struggles to cope with the physical and mental demands that accompany such a prestigious role.
Like many of Aronofsky’s films, this one blurs the line between reality and fantasy, offering scenarios that the audience must judge for themselves. Do these events take place in Nina’s head, or in real life? Which events? Who is real, and when are they real? Probably the most fun I had was after the film, sitting on my couch, trying to decide what actually happened.
Aronofsky and Portman both stated that they were inspired or reminded of Roman Polanski’s works, such as The Tenant and Rosemary’s Baby. Those films also made very broad strokes when it came to nailing down whether the action on screen should be taken at face-value or not. The film also bears passing similarities to 1997’s Perfect Blue, a film in which an actress falls into a dream world to escape problems associated with her changing career.
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that you shouldn’t take the events in this movie too seriously at first glance. Watch it once if you want a dark, dramatic psychological thriller. Give yourself some time to think and then watch it again. Look for what you missed, and try to associate everything you saw before. There’s a reason this film won Best Picture. It’s worth watching at least twice.
On a final note, to address some of the criticisms people have with the film. I agree that it does not realistically portray the lives of ballet dancers. It seems to be more like the fictionalized lives of ballet dancers, lives that are often described as tormented and painful. The latter seems to be the one people are more familiar with whenever the “dark side” of ballet is brought up. In a way, leaning away from the reality of ballet seems to make the film even better, as it further twists and perverts Nina’s life and the way we see her world. It’s something to consider when viewing the film.