Black Swan

Black Swan

In Theatres: 
Dec 03, 2010
Running Time: 
1 Hour, 43 Minutes
Bottom Line:

Black Swan is a terrifying and often beautiful journey through the psychological transformation of an obsessed ballet dancer.

Darren Aronofsky has got be one downer of a friend.

Darren Aronofsky, who is known for directing films that are depressing as hell, continues the trend with his latest outing, Black Swan.

Black Swan is about Nina Sayers, played by Natalie Portman, who is an obsessively devoted ballerina working at a major New York company. She gets casted as the lead in their newest ballet, Swan Lake. In her role, she has to play two parts: The Black Swan and the White Swan. While she is the embodiment of the White Swan, she seems physically incapable of playing the Black Swan. She is so frigid and innocent, but in order to play the Black Swan, she has to become sensual and impulsive.

There is a new a ballerina named Lily, played by Mila Kunis, who is the embodiment of the Black Swan. Lily begins to befriend Nina as Nina attempts to learn how to portray the Black Swan. Through this process we see the depth of her obsessiveness and even deeper psychological issues that lie beneath.

With this being the fifth directing job for Aronofsky, it seems now that he has fully hit his stride with this film. Other entries by him include Requiem for a Dream and the Wrestler. In this movie Aronofsky’s bold direction oozes out of every scene. Like the Wrestler, which Black Swan was made as a companion piece to, this movie has the documentary feel to it through use of a 16mm camera being hand held. By using this technique, Black Swan feels very intimate which is key as to how Aronofsky wonderfully transcends Nina’s mind. For most of the running time the camera stays at an extreme close up of Nina which adds to that feeling all the more. The movie feels very raw in that sense, but there are also so many shots that are gorgeous as well. I see this film for sure getting a best director nomination at the upcoming Oscar’s.

But looking at the direction only tells a portion of the praise for this movie. First off the performances were phenomenal. Mila Kunis gave a rather surprising turn here, where I now I cant take her seriously as an actress and not the whiny hot girl on That 70’s Show. All the actor’s gave great performances, but none so great as Natalie Portman. This is a role that she is brilliant in. As you watch her go from a fragile “princess” into a self destructive psycho, you are just amazed in transience of her performance. You feel as crazy as she does watching the whole process. The amount of dedication that you could see in her performance was boundless. Not only did she nail the psychological transformation, but she also transformed herself physically to be totally believable as a professional dancer.  Her performance was incredible and has my vote for best actress.

Not only did Portman’s performance make you feel crazy, but Aronofsky’s direction in how he shows Nina’s schizophrenic tendencies is brilliant and terrifying. As she becomes more obsessed with her role, her psychological problems become more apparent. Throughout the movie, you see her start to see things that you are not sure are true or not, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that Nina is crazy. As we look through her perspective, you see her becoming paranoid by experiencing things that would make anyone terrified.

In this sense, Black Swan is a horror movie. Rather having someone or something be the villain, all the horror comes from Nina’s head, which even that is debatable. The film is very unique in that aspect, because instead of conveying terror, this movie picks on our anxieties. There are many scenes that are truly cringe worthy, and what makes them even scarier is that they are all fears we deal with on a daily basis.

Although many of these visuals were quite horrific, there were also times when the film was beautiful. Most evident in the dancing sequences, the cinematography and staging was incredibly well set that there were certain shots that could be framed as paintings.

The beauty was also strongly displayed through the score as well. Using much of the dramatic classical music in ballets to companion Nina’s life, the movie was fiercely melodramatic.

The only point where the film deterred from classical music was during a club scene that was quite polarizing. The whole sequence was shot with such intensity and featured unsettling techno music, it was one of the more memorable sequences. More importantly because it marked a major turn for Nina as she attempts to get in touch with her Black Swan.

But no sequence is quite as memorable as the finale of the movie, which is the performance of Swan Lake. Long after the credits roll, your mind will try to process what you went through. You and your friends will be discussing on end the themes of the film and where reality ended and fantasy took over this tragic tale.

While Black Swan is an incredibly powerful film and what that is masterfully constructed, it is not without fault. The biggest is that it can be hard to become emotionally connected to anybody in this character. This movie is film noir in this sense, because there isn’t a single good person present. Black Swan is so dark and intimate to the world of ballet, that so many people can’t get attached to the characters.

Despite the flaw, the intimate following of Nina’s psychological journey is so unique and fascinating that you don’t need to be emotionally attached to her to fully enjoy this movie.

Beyond that singular issue, I will say that Black Swan is certainly not a movie for everyone. Because of the extremely dark tone and visually graphic context, certain people will be put off. If you do not enjoy a movie attempting to get under your skin or one that picks at your brain, then this is not for you.

For everyone else though, Black Swan takes you on a visceral journey that plays on your deepest anxieties and doesn’t let you go until the final reel. It is a showcase of an actor and director hitting near perfection and is marvelous to watch. Certainly one of the best movies of the year, as it will also be one of the most talked about one for some time.

Review by Alex Tracy