Black Swan – A Review

Darren Aronofsky
 is fast becoming one of the most exciting directors of the 21st Century. From his frenetic debut, Pi, through to my favourite film of the last decade, The Wrestler, he is on par with The Coen Brothers and Christopher Nolan as someone whose films i will go to any lengths to see. During Black Swan‘s initial launch, i was in South Korea where it was deemed unfit for a theatrical release, (i guess murder and lesbian sex isn’t everyones cup of tea. . . ) so i found myself having to “go out of my way” to watch it on a tiny screen with poor speakers. Definitely not the way Black Swan was intended to be seen. I enjoyed it enough, but jumped at the chance to see the film in the cinema once i returned to the UK. Hey, murder and lesbian sex ARE my cup of tea!

After entering the world of amateur wrestling with The Wrestler, Black Swan sees Aronofsky venturing into the high brow world of the New York ballet scene, in which we followNatalie Portman‘s Nina, a shy, aspiring ballet dancer who lives with her mother who strives for her daughter to be the best. The company’s director, Vincent Cassel’s Thomas, is producing a new version of Swan Lake and Nina is selected to be the Swan Queen. Thomas has doubts however, that she can fully channel the role of the black swan and encourages her to “let go” both artistically and sexually to fully capture both swans. As Nina struggles with competition from the over sexed, Lily, her paranoias and fears come to the fore as she is lead down an Alice in Wonderland type spiral of self harm and hallucinations until we reach the final crescendo that is the final, brilliant performance of Swan Lake.

Black Swan is sexy, confusing, uncomfortable, exhausting and brilliant. I loved every second of it and much like Requiem for a Dream, i found it exhilarating and thought it showed ones person decline and descent into madness superbly. It had been a while since i had gotten to the end of a film and just sat through the entire credits to gather my thoughts about what i had just seen. (The last film to do so was Gasper Noe’s ‘Enter the Void’)

But what makes it such a good film? In short, everything. Aronofsky has created such a claustrophobic, paranoid world, that you can’t help but revel in Nina’s sense of paranoia. The set design owes as much to this as does anything else. Everywhere you look there are subtle nods to Nina’s transformation with black and white colours filling every room, similarly with the costumes. She is the pure white swan, always in virginal colours until she finally lets go in a club and is handed a sexy black outfit by Mila Kunis’ Lily. In almost every scene, mirrors and reflections abound giving us indications to the split personality inside of Nina. In a nod to Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking glass‘, Nina falls down the metaphorical rabbit hole of perfection and madness, but only this fantasy Wonderland has grave consequences.

Much has been said about Natalie Portman‘s performance, and while i was initially only impressed by her physical transformation and dancing skills, upon second viewing, i found Natalie Portman captivating and thought she did an excellent job playing the shy, vulnerable Nina, which only made her transformation into the Black Swan even more impressive. She earns her spurs during the second act of Swan Lake where we see her whole persona and body language change as, in her mind, she literally becomes the black swan. The visual and sound effects add nice touches in transforming Portman into the swan queen. The subtle sound of a flapping wing here, or the scales of her skin rising there were great touches without taking us out of her performance. I don’t know much about Ballet, but from I saw in the film, i can tell that Natalie Portman must have worked extremely hard as i thought the dancing scenes were fantastic. The way this was shot was also responsible for this, as much like the Wrestler, a lot of the “action” was shot hand-held with the camera running in and out of the performers as if the camera were dancing with them in these long takes.

The supporting cast all do their bit, with Mila Kunisparticularly impressive as the laid back, sexy Lily. As does Vincent Cassel as stage director Thomas Leroy and Barbara Hershey is particularly frightening as the dominant mother who is now living her dreams through her daughter.

To give my reviews a air of credibility, when i clearly like a film, i usually like to pick up on something that might have been less than impressive to show that i am giving an unbiased account. However, I really couldn’t fault Black Swan. I’ve seen Black Swan described as ‘pretentious’ ‘predictable’ with sketchy characters. I couldn’t disagree with these comments more. If by pretentious, you mean “unconventional”? fine! Predictable? Sure! The first time we are told the story of Swan Lake, it was obvious that Nina’s life would run parallel to this ballet’s story, we would just be watching to see HOW events unfold, and unfold they do!

While Black Swan might not have as many Oscar nominations asThe Kings Speech or The Social Network, i would still rank it as my favourite film of the year and i hope it does well at the Oscars and i look forward to seeing more of Aronofsky’s work. Hell, i liked it so much that i might even go back and take another look at “The Fountain“. Now if that doesn’t tell you how much i liked Black Swan, nothing will!

Categories: Film, Reviews


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