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Black Swan (2010)

A 2010 psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky.

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Dancing With One's Own Personal Reflections....

  • Dec 4, 2010
Rating:
+5
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 credits. It may also be Natalie Portman’s best performance yet. “Black Swan” is a freaky mind-bender of the highest order; it is smart, sexy and unsettling….and very realistic.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina in the New York Ballet; she is dedicated, hard-working and is hungry for the spotlight in their theater’s upcoming season. The company’s lead director and producer, Thom (Vincent Cassel) is opening with a bold new take of “Swan Lake” and he is looking to open with a new star and to close with the aging one (Winona Ryder). Intrigue follows the backstage politics as Thom instructs Nina to become more than a “white swan” but to also become “the black swan” as to satisfy the requirements of the role as the Queen. Paranoid that her chances at stardom may be threatened by a newcomer (Mila Kunis) and her own mother (Barbara Hershey), weird things begin to happen to Nina that make her question her own reality. She begins to see things in mirrors, her own skin and experiences things that may be real or not. Nina may indeed be the queen in more than one definition…

               Natalie Portman as Nina in "Black Swan"

              Natalie Portman and Vincent Cassel in "Black Swan"

There is just one way to accurate describe Aronofsky’s “Black Swan”; the film has the realism and drama of the critically acclaimed “The Wrestler” that collides with the vision he had incorporated in “The Fountain”. The script (based on the story by Andres Heinz which he co-wrote) also borrows some themes from Tchaikovsky’s own “Swan Lake” as “Red Shoes” borrowed from a story by Hans Christian Anderson (I think?). Aronofsky’s film brings forth the psyche that is about to break down before our eyes. We see Nina as she tries to stay the narrow path, as she slowly becomes unhinged. Are we who we really are, or are we what we are expected to be? Are we trapped in shells of our making or are destined to play a role in life, expected to fulfill our dreams through other’s expectations? Yes, the film is one major mind-freak so be prepared to wear your thinking hats.

Aronofsky’s thought-provoking themes are further more enhanced by the film’s gloomy atmosphere and mood. Nina’s visions are a manifestation of all her fears and her own reflection. The direction uses mirrors and visions to express Nina’s confusion and emotions; the film is also rich with symbolism that those who are not used to this type of filmmaking may find themselves a bit alienated. Her skin, her twin, her mother and even Lily all serve to express the parallels of the story of the ballet to her own life. Her visions are grotesquely similar to the show that is about to be performed, it is a fairy tale that is very bleak and presents a penalty to all who take part. The film is an exposition of the Nina character and her cracking psyche and body. To keep the focus on the character, Aronofsky employs simple camerawork (with the aid of Matthew Libatique) to express emotions through facial features that he keeps the camera close when needed and hangs behind from an almost perspective viewpoint to mimic the sensation of voyeurism. This type of cinematography is pretty low-key but very effective.

                   Natalie Portman in "Black Swan."

 Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman in "Black Swan."  Natalie Portman as Nina in "Black Swan"

                   

I suppose for a film like this succeed, the lead actress has to be able to hold much of the film’s burden and Portman does so admirably. She is perfect for the Nina role; down to the character’s strengths and flaws. Portman’s character is the type that makes viewers wonder as to what she is thinking and how she is coping with her feelings. I would say that Portman surely had a double in the ballet scenes, but to the direction’s credit and to Portman’s, I could not be sure if there was. The shots were so seamless and Portman was just so convincing as our embattled dancer. Cassel is just short of brilliant as Thom the director. He is quite the charmer and yet sometimes creepy as he tries to convince Nina to “lose” herself. Their scenes together are very sexy and quite seductive, that I was very impressed with the amount of chemistry they had. Mila Kunis surprisingly becomes an ideal foil to the struggling Nina; one look and one can see their differences, Lily’s highlights and tattoos are an expression of her rebellious, carefree nature, a contrast to the more careful and rigid Nina. Portman and Kunis definitely worked hard for their roles since they had obviously gone on a strict diet to look like ballerinas.

Now “Black Swan” is not perfect. Aronofsky did somewhat lose some of his footing as some scenes felt over-wrought (but not enough to really hurt the film). The mother-daughter dynamic was good but there were times that I felt that it came dangerously close to becoming heavy-handed. Barbara Hershey plays the mother, who gave her career to have Nina. She may well be seeing herself in her own child, as she tries to keep her straight and focused on her dreams. There were times that Portman just took more of the burden of their scenes together and their squabbles felt a little contrived. I was glad to see some gentle yet wild humor injected, as Nina sees her mother’s presence while she tries to ‘treat herself’. Yes, the dynamics weren’t as smooth as I would’ve wished but I guess it worked.

              


                   Mila Kunis as Lilly and Natalie Portman as Nina in "Black Swan"

The film’s final act is of course the performance of “Swan Lake” as the direction builds up to its climax. The scene was fantastic and you can feel that you are part of the backstage drama and the beauty that happens onstage. There is some use of special effects as we witness the evolution of its character as Nina becomes engulfed in its illusion. The musical score is fitting to Aronofsky’s intended mood and tone; even the none-dance sequences complemented the film’s scenes and dialogue.

“Black Swan” has a killer climax that is just so compelling and strong. It embodies all the emotions, mood and the themes that Aronofsky has been methodically communicating from the film’s opening. The direction was so precise that I was engulfed in this fable that borders on the macabre drawn up by Aronofsky’s careful hand. The film kept me guessing, and while I saw where it was headed, I was enthralled by the scenes that I was excited to see what would happen next. “Black Swan” is one engaging psychological drama that is filled with frantic upsurge; Aronofsky has hit another homerun, now sit back and enjoy the show.

Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
 
Poster art for "Black Swan"  Poster art for "Black Swan"


 
4 ½ Stars: Dancing With One's Own Personal Reflections.... 4 ½ Stars: Dancing With One's Own Personal Reflections.... 4 ½ Stars: Dancing With One's Own Personal Reflections....

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December 20, 2010
Great review - I agree it's Natalie Portman's best performance to date, so hopefully she gets a nomination in January. We were surprised how gruesome some of the scenes were... I'll never look at Winona Ryder the same way again!
December 21, 2010
I know...they made Winona real creepy in some of those scenes. I really enjoyed this film, it proved to be nothing I expected and became so much more.
 
December 20, 2010
I liked the older Aronofsky best though Wrestler was quite good. I will admit that this looks like the most promising film, however, of 2010 and I will look forward to watching it. Great write up Woopak!!! Oh, I did watch A Serbian Film. Whew, do I ever feel dirty. Dude, you need to see it!
December 21, 2010
Thanks, Ceno! I have a feeling you will like this one. I already read your review of that Serbian film and I need to bathe LOL!
December 21, 2010
You will definitely feel the need to bathe or perform some cleansing ritual once you've seen it. I watched that one back to back with Last House On Dead End Street. Now that's overkill for just one night. Have you seen Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void yet? That was playing in my hometown a few weeks back.
December 22, 2010
Nope, unfortunately it didn't hit the theaters in my area. God, that is some work seeing those movies back to back. Hey, where's your review of SALO?
December 22, 2010
SALO?? I just might do that one now as I'm getting away with writing reviews for Nekromantik 2, A Serbian Film, & Malabimba. Oh, not to mention In The Realm Of The Senses. Party time dude!! ;-)
 
December 08, 2010
Looks like a good film, William. Thanks for the recommendation. Will pass it on. :)
December 08, 2010
Adri, this movie will be making my best of 2010 for sure! :)
December 08, 2010
Oo, good to know!
January 16, 2011
seen it yet? Two of my closest lady friends saw it and they just loved it! Truly a mind-bender and kept them on the edge of their seats.
January 20, 2011
Nope, lol. Not yet. :-P
 
December 06, 2010
wow this looks like 1 that fell below the radar a bit lol. Great review, I would look at the preview and think its just a 3 star movie with a 4 star preview lol but I have loved portman since I saw her in the professional as a young actress cause she is amazing on the screen. You really just put this in my netflix queue pakman thanks for the heads up
December 06, 2010
I have known you since 2006, and I have a handle on your movie tastes. You will like this one.
December 07, 2010
lol I know cause most of what you watch, I watch but did you see this in the theatres? cause its not available on netflix just yet.
December 07, 2010
Yes I did see it on a limited release in theaters. I think it'll have a nationwide release in time for the Oscars.
December 09, 2010
yo, Keith...you like high-flying swordplay don't you? check this out.
 
December 05, 2010
Great review! I don't mind a good psychological thriller but I don't like horror at all. Am I assuming correctly that this is more the former? I have admired Natalie Portman as an actress for many years (since she was a kid in The Professional) and am curious to see this film but want to make sure it's not too intense for me. Thanks.
December 06, 2010
great question. I would say yes, the film is horrific and depressing, sometimes even unsettling but the execution is more of a psychological drama and it is more on surreal style. The film is rich on symbolism as the script goes into the mind and emotions of the Nina character. It won't be too intense but will definitely wring your brain to keep up with the sequences. Thanks! :)
 
December 05, 2010
Wow that's quite a cast for a film that has somehow managed to do its best to avoid the hype that usually surrounds this type of film. And that score you gave it coupled to lines like, "The direction was so precise that I was engulfed in this fable that borders on the macabre drawn up by Aronofsky's careful hand" having me placing this one on my to do list immediately. I've been patiently waiting out the Blu-Ray release of Inception here but you have managed to divide my attention on this, another solid-sounding psychological piece. Well done bro!!
December 05, 2010
I am waiting for INCEPTION too! I hope you review it for us. I do think you will like this one if you like mind-benders.
December 08, 2010
Did you buy it yet? waiting for your review...I am currently re-watching it. Blu ray looks hella good!!
December 08, 2010
Not yet Mister William- hopefully I'll have time to grab it tomorrow after work. Blu Ray it is for me for sure! Can't wait. And when I get it, I'll review it immediately after viewing!
 
December 05, 2010
Hey, you've tempted me again! Great writing, Woo!
December 05, 2010
you know me, I like to tempt LOL!
 
December 05, 2010
sounds like I may like this one..
December 05, 2010
I think you will too. How are you?
December 05, 2010
All is well. Just trying to decide which movie to go see today...
December 05, 2010
see this or if you want to just have popcorn fun, The Warrior's Way wasn't so bad, at least to someone who loves Asian cinema.
 
December 04, 2010
Wow...I just asked what movie I should see tonight and if this is playing near me, I think I'll go see this! Thanks, Woo- great review!
December 05, 2010
go, Sam..Go! You'll like this one for sure!
December 07, 2010
did you see it, Sam?
December 07, 2010
Not yet...maybe this week sometime, I have to find it in the South Bay!
 
December 04, 2010
I have not even heard of this movie - wonderful review that makes me want to see this one!! It sounds dark and intriguing and I love that..thanks Woo.
December 04, 2010
See it, Brenda. I was impressed with this one. more dramatic than horrific but boy, it sure worked.
December 05, 2010
Brenda, I am spreading laughs now--check this out.
 
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More Black Swan (2010 film) reviews
review by . December 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
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": …
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 . September 25, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Aronofky's Swan Dive
BLACK SWAN   Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin   Directed by Darren Aronofsky   Starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder      Thomas Leroy: Perfection is not just about control.  It is also about letting go.      From my understanding, to be a true ballerina, one must always strive for perfection.  Your toes, your torso, your lines must be just so.  …
review by . December 24, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The beginning of the movie, is the movie. It tells the whole story of what is to come the rest of the way. Unlike the movie it takes place while our main character is asleep so we know that this isn't happening, the rest of the way the audience can never be sure what in the movie is real and what is not. From there we dip in and out of the mind of Darren Aronofsky as he places Natalie Portman in prime position to win an Oscar.      SYNOPSIS      Portman …
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Wiki

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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Details

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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