Nina, played by Natalie Portman, is a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her obsessive former ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who exerts a suffocating control over her.
When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, his first choice is Nina. But she has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well.
Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan.
As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side - a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.
When Aronofsky proposed a detailed outline of Black Swan to Universal Pictures, the studio decided to fast-track development of the project in January 2007. The project did not come together at the studio, and Aronofsky would go on to shoot The Wrestler instead.
After finishing The Wrestler in 2008, he asked Mark Heyman, who had worked for him on the film, to write Black Swan. By June 2009, Universal had placed the project in turnaround, generating attention from other studios and speciality divisions, particularly with actress Portman to star. Mila Kunis was cast in July 2009.
Black Swan began development under Protozoa Pictures and Overnight Productions, the latter financing the film. Fox Searchlight Pictures distributed the film and set a production budget of $10–12 million. Principal photography was achieved using Super 16 mm cameras and began in New York City toward the end of 2009. Part of the filming took place at the Performing Arts Center at State University of New York at Purchase.
Aronofsky filmed Black Swan with a muted palette and a grainy style, which he intended to be similar to The Wrestler, to which he considered Black Swan a companion piece. A number of different cuts were produced for various domestic and international markets. We are pleased to be showing the original Director's US version of the film.
Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers/The Swan Queen
Aronofsky had also seen numerous productions of Swan Lake, and he connected the duality of the White Swan and the Black Swan to his script. When researching for production of Black Swan, he found ballet to be 'a very insular world' whose dancers were 'not impressed by movies'. Regardless, the director found active and inactive dancers to share their experiences with him. He also stood backstage to see the Bolshoi Ballet perform at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Aronofsky called Black Swan a companion piece to his previous film The Wrestler, recalling one of his early projects about a love affair between a wrestler and a ballerina. He eventually separated the wrestling and the ballet worlds as 'too much for one movie'. He compared the two films: "Wrestling some consider the lowest art—if they would even call it art—and ballet some people consider the highest art. But what was amazing to me was how similar the performers in both of these worlds are. They both make incredible use of their bodies to express themselves."
About the psychological thriller nature of Black Swan, actress Natalie Portman compared the film's tone to Polanski's 1968 film Rosemary's Baby, while Aronofsky said Polanski's Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976) were 'big influences' on the final film.
Actor Vincent Cassel also compared Black Swan to Polanski's early works and additionally compared it to David Cronenberg's early films.
In 2010, Aronofsky acknowledged there being similarities between the 1997 anime film Perfect Blue and his film Black Swan, but stated thatit was not an influence on his concept for Black Swan.
Developing the Roles
Mila Kunis was first approached to perform in Black Swan in 2008. She and co-star Natalie Portman spent six months training and toning their bodies before filming began.
As mentioned above, Darren Aronofsky first discussed with Portman the possibility of a ballet film in 2000, and he found she was interested in playing a ballet dancer. Portman explained being part of Black Swan, "I'm trying to find roles that demand more adulthood from me, because you can get stuck in a very awful cute cycle as a woman in film, especially being such a small person."
Portman suggested to Aronofsky that her good friend Mila Kunis would be perfect for the role. Kunis contrasted Lily with Nina, "My character is very loose... She's not as technically good as Natalie's character, but she has more passion, naturally. That's what [Nina] lacks."
The female characters are directed in the Swan Lake production by Thomas Leroy, played by Cassel. He compared his character to George Balanchine, who co-founded New York City Ballet and was "a control freak, a true artist using sexuality to direct his dancers".
Portman and Kunis started training six months before the start of filming in order to attain a body type and muscle tone more similar to those of professional dancers. Portman worked out for five hours a day, doing ballet, cross-training, and swimming. A few months closer to filming, she began choreography training. Kunis engaged in cardio-exercise and Pilates, "train[ing] seven days a week, five hours, for five, six months total, and ... was put on a very strict diet of 1,200 calories a day." She lost 20 pounds from her normal weight of about 117 pounds, and reported that Portman "became smaller than I did."
Kunis said, "I did ballet as a kid like every other kid does ballet. You wear a tutu and you stand on stage and you look cute and twirl. But this is very different because you can't fake it. You can't just stay in there and pretend you know what you're doing. Your whole body has to be structured differently."
Georgina Parkinson, a ballet mistress from the American Ballet Theatre, coached the actors in ballet. American Ballet Theatre soloists Sarah Lane and Maria Riccetto served as 'dance doubles' for Portman and Kunis respectively. Dancer Kimberly Prosa also served as a double for Portman. She stated: "Natalie took class, she studied for several months; from the waist up it is her. Sarah Lane a soloist at ABT, did the heavy tricks, she did the fouéttes, but they only had her for a limited time, a couple of weeks, so I did the rest of whatever dance shots they needed.".
In addition to the soloist performances, members of the Pennsylvania Ballet were cast as the corps de ballet, backdrop for the main actors' performances. Also appearing in the film are Kristina Anapau, Toby Hemingway, Sebastian Stan,] and Janet Montgomery.
The soundtrack for Black Swan comprises music by Tchaikovsky and electronica dance music by English production duo The Chemical Brothers.
It marks the fifth consecutive collaboration between Darren Aronofsky and English composer Clint Mansell. Mansell attempted to score the film based on Tchaikovsky's ballet, but with radical changes to the music. Because of the use of Tchaikovsky's music, the score was deemed ineligible to be entered into the 2010 Academy Awards for Best Original Score.
Black Swan had its world premiere as the opening film at the 67th Venice Film Festival on 1st September 2010. It received a standing ovation whose length Variety said made it 'one of the strongest Venice openers in recent memory'.
The festival's artistic director, Marco Mueller, had chosen Black Swan over The American, starring George Clooney, for the opening film, saying, "[It] was just a better fit...Clooney is a wonderful actor, and he will always be welcome in Venice. But it was as simple as that."
Black Swan is the third consecutive film directed by Aronofsky to premiere at the Venice Film Festival, following The Fountain and The Wrestler.
Black Swan was presented in a sneak screening at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado on 5th September 2010. It also had a Gala screening at the 35th Toronto International Film Festival later in the month.
In October 2010, Black Swan was screened at the New Orleans Film Festival, the Austin Film Festival, and the BFI London Film Festival. In November 2010, the film was screened at American Film Institute's AFI Fest in Los Angeles, the Denver Film Festival and Camerimage Festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
The release of Black Swan in the United Kingdom was brought forward from 11th February to 21st January 2011. According to The Independent, the film was considered one of 'the most highly anticipated' films of late 2010. The newspaper then compared it to the 1948 ballet film The Red Shoes, in having "a nightmarish quality ... of a dancer consumed by her desire to dance".