I watched the highly popular psychological thriller ‘Black Swan’ starring Natalie Portman yesterday to explore how suspense was created in more contemporary films in contrast to those I have already seen made in earlier years (i.e. psycho, memento etc).
The film takes us through the story of Nina (Portman) a ballerina in a dance company striving for a bigger part in her dance company. When she lands the leading role (the swan queen) in the ballet swan lake however, everything begins to turn for the worst. She can play the part of the sweet white swan perfectly, but however hard she tries, she can't let herself go enough to play the part of the evil black swan. Her determination for perfection in the role gradually destroys her, manipulates her mind, driving her insane. Her insanity causes edgy horrific hallucinations which pulls the audience along with these visions, making us believe what we see and causing us great confusion. In realizing the psychological importance behind the film, it suddenly shakes our ability to recognize reality from Nina’s hallucinations leading to the terrifying and gripping climax of Nina’s unintentional suicide at the end of the film.
Suspense is created throughout the film very effectively in numerous ways. A hand held camera is used frequently used in screen shots, creating uneasiness for the audience, reflecting the instability of the film, particularly the delicate state of Nina’s mind. Another classic suspense creating factor is the use of black and white in films and the connotations that are tied to this dichotomy. Its consistent presence in this film through the contrasting personas of the black and white swan means we see clearer the distance between them. Black allows the emphasis of evil, creating suspense with darkness, fear and insecurity (a technique already used widely in thriller movies) and white representing purity and innocence. The use of music was also very significant. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake became a sort of trigger or signal for an edgy thrilling moment in the film. The music played alongside the scarier moments therefore becoming an association that we picked up on as the audience, allowing us to sense in the future scenes of the play when another thrilling scene was looming. This isn’t the first we’ve seen of this technique, in ‘The sixth sense’ by M. Night Shyamalan the colour red closely associated with the scenes ghosts appear, creating extra tension because of the association, causing audience members to anticipate the build up of tension and fear.
I enjoyed the film a lot, Portman's acting and portrayal of innocence and evil was amazing, and I was left thinking about this film for a long time after it was over. It made the audience jump, scream and even cringe at times; overall a very suspenseful thriller that I would like (if I was brave enough) to watch again sometime.