For Aronofsky, ‘Swan’ is personal

Despite horror overtones, pic is about 'girl becoming a woman'

For director Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan” is immensely personal. It begins with a sister who underwent rigorous ballet training, follows him through film school and a meeting with Natalie Portman.

But after a lifetime of development, Aronofsky et al have peeled back the skin on a piece of ancient Russian folklore to reveal its sharp, black feathers in a contemporary and surreal fashion.

Origins: “When I graduated from AFI I made a list for possible features and one of them was ‘The Wrestler’ and one was set in the ballet world. The comparisons between them happened to come slightly coincidentally, so whatever my big story is to tell, I’ve been telling it, and there’s a connection there.

“And then maybe 10 years ago I met with Natalie Portman for the first time and I kind of had a few ideas about what the film was about, and we talked about it. Over the years I slowly developed it and it became what it is.”

Casting coup: “(Portman is) always cast very youthfully because of her beauty, yet she is a woman, which hasn’t really been shown in any of the films she’s done yet. At the core there’s a story of a girl becoming a woman. When we’re writing and developing, we generally write for someone. ‘The Wrestler’ was completely written for Mickey (Rourke) and who he is publicly.”

Cinematic approach: “There’s such the contrast between beauty of the ballet world and the great horror of the story. ‘Swan Lake,’ the ballet, is this fairy tale about an evil magician who’s captured this girl and turned her into a half-swan/half-human creature. So it is a werewolf movie, it’s a were-swan-creature. We just tried to take that and turn it into a full-length feature film.”

Audience expectations vs. director’s vision: “The first responsibility is always to the audience. You have to figure out how to entertain, and if you’re entertaining and there’s something you want to do personally and it doesn’t hurt the entertainment, then I think that’s OK. But you have to work within those boundaries. When you’re doing certain elements of horror and gore it’s about how far is too far. I’m sure there’ll be people out there who have a big shock and others who think, ‘Oh what’s the big deal?’ and that’s always hard … what’s too intense for people.”

More articles from Eye on the Oscars: The Director Preview:
Auds entertained by pics’ royal pains | The ‘Inception’ phenomenon | A live-action approach to animation
First Person: Six helmers behind some of the year’s most buzzed-about pics talk about their inspiration
Darren Aronofsky | Danny Boyle | Lisa Cholodenko | Debra Granik | Mike Leigh | John Cameron Mitchell