Black Swan

Natalie Portman as the black swan

“Natalie Portman plays a psychotic ballet dancer who turns into a lesbian?”

“Yeah, and it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a long while”.

This was how Black Swan was sold to me by a friend. It’s an engrossing and vivid film, flawed by the hyperactive tendencies of its director Darren Aronofsky.

Portman plays Nina Sayers, a dancer situated in New York but who lives entirely in her ballet world. Nina’s devotion stands out, even in an art where every sinew is forced to bear the weight of unnatural grace. She battles for the lead role in a new production of Swan Lake, which will be “visceral and real” according to its choreographer Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassell).

He needs someone who can embody both swans, white and black, and Nina struggles to portray the salacious nature of the black swan. Her competitor is Lily, a seductive schemer, played by Mila Kunis, whose sashaying eyes are all that’s needed to imply her darkly allure.

Nina’s sanity is shown to be slipping early on but what started it? Possibly her possessive mother who herself was a dancer, but of lesser talent. She salves her daughter’s wounds and helps her undress in the bathroom. She’s definitely crazy but not mad.

Aronofsky uses the idea of the doppelganger as the motif of madness. Mirrors are everywhere and in their reflection we begin to see the schizoid panic of Nina. Portman’s beauty acts to her advantage in Black Swan, where her girlish, small-chin features look all too prone to cracking under strain.

Wincing injuries to fingers and toes are a physical sign of Nina’s mental degradation as she fixates on perfecting her dance. She worships ballet and it becomes her undoing. Cassell is perfectly cast as the demanding maestro, who implores Nina to ‘touch herself’ to prepare for her role – and to lose her innocence along the way, preferably with him.

She also has to watch out for Lily, presented as funky and free, but who actually acts like any normal adolescent. She befriends Nina and takes her clubbing which leads to an outburst of rebellion and lesbianism. Black Swan is about repression, hatred, perfection and jealousy. Nina’s old enough to go clubbing but her room is filled with cuddly toys. Her mother is oppressive and it’s small wonder that Nina self-harms and her ‘evil twin’ is dying to break out.

The jittery camera work, by Matthew Libatique, conveys a shivering claustrophobia. The grainy texture of the film with its muted colours, have the atmosphere of horror, and the lighting impresses, especially on stage where Nina’s final transformation into the black swan is quite spectacular.

The set designs, the similarity in looks between the leading ladies all serve to bolster the film’s notion of duality. But the use of music grates. Aronofsky has done psychotic breakdowns before, in his debut feature Pi, and in the drug-addled Requiem for a Dream. In that film, fevers boiled in searing music and sweaty editing. But the incessant classical score which emphasises every dramatic beat in every scene of Black Swan is fucking annoying.

The sensual ambition of Black Swan and the camera’s looming view of Nina, her fevered obsession and anxiety over perfection propel this film, while the dark edges of madness provide a captivating portrait of denied adulthood. ‘Lose yourself’ is Leroy’s advice, and the black swan manages to seduce.

4/5

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6 Responses to “Black Swan”


  1. 1 Heloísa Flores January 23, 2011 at 1:10 am

    Nice review Lu! Keep that quality! I just think you don’t need to give that much detail about the history.

    Looks like an incredible movie, maybe I’ll watch this one while waiting for the next review. Great work!

  2. 2 Marshall February 5, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Brilliant, brilliant movie. I’m obsessed.

  3. 3 balimore February 7, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Great review, couldn’t of said it any better myself. I like the style you to choose to right in, you have really made it your own!

  4. 5 CMrok93 February 8, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    It’s a great movie, and Portman gives off a flawless performance that just has you totally believe everything that she does. Good Review!


  1. 1 Tweets that mention Black Swan « orangeleg films -- Topsy.com Trackback on January 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm

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