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Black Swan (2010)

A 2010 psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky.

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Fight Club Meets Swan Lake - And It Rocks!

  • Dec 20, 2010
Darren Aronofsky has achieved the impossible: he's made ballet cool. Seriously, get rid of the Best Film award and introduce the Made Something Cool That Was Hitherto Completely Uncool award, and then kick Guy Ritchie squarely in the unspeakables for making Sherlock Holmes.

First, he threw out all that ballet shoe shit and went straight for the jugular, combining Heath Ledger's Joker with Tyler Durden from Fight Club to give us "holy crap it's Natalie Portman": She's sweet, she's elegant and she's going to f*** your s*** up.

Second, he injects copious quantities of sex, violence and shocking sex and shocking violence - much like Fight Club did - making sure that anybody who dares to touch their Diet Coke will get it snorted into their lungs from the sheer brutality and primal lunacy of this visual assault. Darren A hates Diet Coke and will ensure it gets all over your clothes.

There's more - check it out. We have (*** SPOILERS ***):
  • Sex: and we're not talking about the "no tissue/that was great" nonsense that made the bedroom more boring than a Swedish Senate hearing. We're going full out lesbian action with someone who wasn't even there and oh-my-god was that a dream?!
  • Violence: you haven't lived until you've seen Winona Ryder self-mutilate by stabbing her face repeatedly - YES, repeatedly - with a nail file. You craziness! Slamming your Mom's fingers in the bedroom door was another wonderful moment.
  • Batshit crazy: Psycho Portman takes us on a Turn of the Screw-style exploration of batshit crazy, literally dancing on the cliff's edge of sanity and practically giving us a 1-800 number to get our own straitjacket. You'll be begging for the 2-for-1 special if you order now.
  • CGI: laughing portraits, random masks, feather's growing - subtle and shocking, it makes Transformers 2 look like a waste of pixels. 
Jeezy Seezy! And it only gets better. The "don't stop or I'll puke" handheld camera that's the signature work of Darry A actually works pretty well here. We can over-analyze and say it's because of the character's unstable state, blah blah bullshit, rather than simply a fear of dolly tracks and Steadicams, but it does actually work. I felt like I'd been on a boat in a storm after this.

And then you have Natalie P who must seriously be getting some psycho scripts in the mail since doing this. Best performance of her career, no kidding, with some pretty solid ballet up front and some totally batshit crazy as the kicker. One scene (SPOILER!) where she cuts herself in the mirror, her facial expression turning from serene to insane still haunts me when I shave in the morning. And I normally like shaving in the morning. Seriously demonic, Shining-level scary, and yet she dances so nicely. "What a nice girl," we all thought - HA!


Originally called The Understudy, it's missing David Fincher's mad editing skills and some slick Dust Brothers soundtrack, so you've got to peel off the layers to see how it's devious enough to pick the pocket of Chuck Palahniak and then make him Choke on his own wallet. (Choke?)
  • The mother doesn't exist: Barbara Hershey, who's also scary in this role, isn't there. Whether she's a decomposed skeleton in the bedroom or just not there - we don't know. But we do know that having your fingers broken in a door isn't conducive for a night at the ballet, plus she's never seen by anyone else. (Watch that scene with Mila Kunis again, and you'll see what I mean.)
  • The whole thing is in Winona Ryder's imagination: remember Jacob's Ladder? Well Winona ain't looking so good after the car crash, and she's paranoid about losing her Prima Donna position. Nothing that a lifetime of therapy won't fix - or having complex lesbian delusions.
  • Mila Kunis doesn't exist: think about it. The lesbian sex scene, the fatal stabbing scene, and even her initial arrival that throws Crazy Portman off her dance - are we really sure she's there? If you're wondering, check the reflections in the mirrors in the dance studio.
  • I see dead people: yeah it's also possible.
Has James lost his mind? Have squirrels taken over Congress? Is Darren A going to make a Police Academy sequel that rocks, simply because that's the only thing more impossible than giving ballet a makeover? Is this the first and only time I've mentioned lesbians in a Lunch review?

If you haven't seen Black Swan, do so immediately. You'll laugh, you'll cry - you'll mainly cry and laugh nervously out of terror, trying to relax your brain rocking back and forth in your skull. You'll never look at Swan Lake the same way again.

PS - Vincent Cassel is excellent value by the way.

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July 12, 2011
I have yet to see this one--I'm glad you went into detail with it and this is a great review!!
January 27, 2011

Excellent review and VERY entertaining!  I saw Black Swan in the theatre and thought it was quite an exciting and strange ride.  It reminds me a bit of Silence of the Lambs...I saw that in the theatre too and thought it was MARVELOUS...but when it came out on DVD (or maybe videotape back then) and I thought about buying it...I realized it may not be a movie I would want to watch again cuz it scared the bejesus out of me! :)

January 09, 2011
I need to get this when it comes out, excellent review.
December 28, 2010
Wonderful review, James! I absolutely loved this film and am rooting for Natalie to win the Oscar, which I'm sure she, no doubt, will. I think maybe I'll watch it again and write a review myself!
December 28, 2010
Thanks! Yes, she's the stand-out performance of the year in her category. Let's hope Oscar politics doesn't derail the whole thing.
December 23, 2010
Can't wait to see this! The previews look beyond bizarre. Excellent review!
December 28, 2010
Thanks! You'll have a blast.
December 22, 2010
You had me at your title. This sounds wonderfully trippy. I'm going to have to watch it. Thanks for sharing!
December 22, 2010
Aha! It's a real trip and an excellent film in every way. I should have given it 5 stars but for some reason I didn't...
December 21, 2010
Spoiler alert: I think it is more of some scenes never happened in its reality. Kunis existed but she wasn't that person Nina imagined her to be--she did dance when the director made her an example, but I don't think she was ever Nina's understudy. I am with you on the mother.... :)
December 22, 2010
Yes, I think that's true too. It's really debatable what actually happens at all, which is part of the genius. Upon reflection, I think your comment is correct, in that it's the scenes rather than the characters that aren't there... but then there's the mother.

Btw, your review of this was typically excellent - you really should be writing for newspapers. Where's that Lunch award nomination? :-)
December 23, 2010
Yes, I need to see this movie again--I bet we can decode several more details. Thanks for the compliment! coming from you who's a real writer, that means a lot!

Oh, you might want to see this one. Loved it! 
December 23, 2010
Yes, we should. I'm a lame writer and love the pros, so keep up the good work. True Grit looks like fun - love the screen caps in your reviews too! Merry Christmas.
February 08, 2011
congratulations on your nomination for this review!
February 08, 2011
Thanks! We're buying votes in case you're interested :-)
More Black Swan (2010 film) reviews
review by . December 04, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
4 ½ Stars: Dancing With One's Own Personal Reflections....
Last time Darren Aronofsky impressed me this much was with the film “The Wrestler”; it was a cinematic experience that was filled with a methodical approach, careful calculation, character-driven dualism and compelling drama. Yes, admittedly I was excited to see his latest film “Black Swan” and it wasn’t anything I expected it to be and yet it became so much more. This film is tense, taut, filled with dramatic and horrific logic that will stay with you after the end …
review by . January 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I don't admit to being a big Darren Aronosfky fan.  I enjoyed Pi and Requiem for a Dream, but he never became a director that I thought was worth putting on my radar.  He makes intriguing films to be certain, but Black Swan was the first time I saw one of his films and felt blown away by it.  Like I'd just sat through something magical, simple and yet very complex at the same time.  It has its moments where it goes overboard, scenes that go to extremes that, for the most …
review by . January 31, 2011
Ballet is an interesting activity. When done right, it can be mesmerizing and impressive as hell. The physical demands placed on the dancers are enormous (I recall reading a book that described ballet dancers as all being “half-crazed with hunger”), and I can only imagine how heavy the psychological burden must be, especially if you’re not the most stable person in the world to begin with. That’s situation in which a young dancer (Natalie Portman), finds herself in Black …
review by . January 12, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Haunted! HUNTED!
It’s no theatrical tricks but it certainly set the mood for the entire film. It’s seldom at first scene that I have an idea how to start a review, much less right at the very beginning of the show. Granted, I’ve read a couple of reviews here and there on this movie but I have managed to steer clear of knowing exactly what the movie entails. I know I don’t feel comfortable starting this movie, even though it has tempted me since I got hold of the dvd copy. I managed to steer …
review by . May 29, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I got this movie on DVD, which was good because even after you watch it, you need to go back and look at certain scenes again to try to determine if they were real or imagined. Portman is a profession ballet dancer vying for the starring role in a new version of Swan Lake in Lincoln Center. Portman is pushed forward by her domineering mother, who herself was a ballerina and keeps reminding Portman that she needed to retire at 28 to raise Portman.    Age is a continuing factor …
review by . April 16, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****       "Black Swan" is a paragon of psychological filmmaking; a wild melodrama, which was simply made for the sake of its own unique existence. The project was ambitious, and in some ways, I couldn't have seen it working. A film like this being this good just doesn't seem impossible, but then again, go ahead and try telling director Darren Aronofksy what's "impossible". I don't think that the man believes in the word. He's been making films for over …
review by . May 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
When i first saw the commericals for this movie it looked good, but then again its about ballet dancers....booooring right? WRONG! I was shocked and amazed at how much i liked this movie. It was enthralling, sexy, and at some points outright creepy. The movie starts off with Nina, a dancer in the new york ballet who is looking for her break into stardom after being out of the spotlight for several years with the company. When her boss announces that their current star will be retiring and he will …
review by . December 19, 2010
BLACK SWAN is the story of a ballerina driven to insanity by her drive to succeed and to be perfect. It's also one of the more purely fascinating movies of 2010. Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career as Nina, the dancer. Nina has been with the professional ballet company headed by Thomas (Vincent Cassel) for a number of years, and she's hoping this will be the year she gets a lead role. He's reviving SWAN LAKE, and needs a new White Swan/Black Swan. Nina is a technically proficient …
review by . March 16, 2011
Black Swan is a wonderful movie, although it is definitely not for everyone. I know I am also late jumping on this bandwagon, seeing as the Oscars are over, but I had to state my claim and wait for my mum's permission to watch it. But waiting was definitely worth it, because Black Swan is a terrific movie. Wonderfully acted, wonderfully directed, and wonderfully intense, if you were expecting an ordinary movie about ordinary ballerinas, then this isn't the movie for you. Instead, its …
review by . March 13, 2011
   Arnofsky's latest is a pretentious work, with little content. His sophistry stops at camera work, and the only real value of the film lays with Natalie Portman's acting - and the makeup artists.
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James Beswick ()
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About this movie


Black Swan is a 2010 American psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky. The film stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as ballet dancers in a New York City production of Swan Lake. The production requires a ballerina to play both the innocent White Swan and the sensual Black Swan. Nina (Portman) fits for the White Swan, Lily (Kunis) fits for the Black Swan, and the two compete for the parts. Aronofsky and Portman first discussed the project in 2000, and after a brief attachment to Universal Pictures, Black Swan was produced in New York City in 2009 under Fox Searchlight Pictures. Notable figures from the ballet world helped with film production to shape the ballet presentation. The film is set to premiere as the opening film for the 67th Venice International Film Festival in September 2010. The film will have a limited release on December 1, 2010.

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Director: Darren Aronofsky
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: December 1st, 2010
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz
Runtime: 103 minutes
Studio: Protozoa Pictures, Phoenix Pictures, Fox Searchlight
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"Aronofky's Swan Dive"
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