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Black Swan (2010)

A 2010 psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky.

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Black Swan

  • Dec 24, 2010
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.


Portman plays Nina Sayers, a girl with the singular obsession of becoming the prima ballerina at her New York Company. She works the hardest and her technique is perfect making her the best choice for the White Swan but the artistic director has decided to combine the White and Black Swan into one role and she lacks the passion to play the antagonist. Enter Mila Kunis, the sexy, free spirited transfer from San Fransisco. Her character Lily is everything that Nina wishes she could be and embodies the spirit of the Black Swan. In any other production the casting would be clear, in this production Nina must take Lily in as a rival, friend, and mentor.


The movie entices you in the opening sequence, the music will keep you entranced. Clint Mansell was brought on to score the film, and has worked with Aronofsky before. For Black Swan he created the entire score using only elements from the original 1876 ballet. The music elevates every sensation during the movie and hits at all the right times. While many will want to forget some of the things they have just witnessed it will be impossible to leave the theater without Tchaikovsky's original composition stuck in your head.

Portman's performance as the singularly minded professional is haunting. The character's transformation to reach perfection seems almost effortless. The most challenging part of the performance was no doubt the ten months of dance lessons along with the 20 pounds she needed to drop to look like a dancer. It pays off as Portman looks solid doing most of her own dancing.  Her own transformation helps makes the character's transformation more believable.  If she had not gone through ten hour days of training, seven days a week her performance may have suffered. Instead we get nothing but intensity. The rise of evil is a story not usually shared as it tends to do so poorly box-office. Plus there are many of us who have been Disney-fied to believe that all stories have a happy ending, when in actuality the story of Swan Lake itself is a tragedy. Nina seems to suffer from an idealistic state of naivety exemplified by her pink room filled with dolls. She is forced to go through both a psychological and physical transformation to achieve her ultimate goal.

The people Nina surrounds herself with do little to help with finding the correct balance to achieve her goal. Vincent Cassel plays the director pushing her to embrace her sensual side to become The Black Swan. Her desire for his approval allows him to take full advantage of his pupil, Nina speaks highly of her director yet we see her being treated in a poor manner. It's tough to tell if this is a power play and deception or a brilliant artist looking to get the most out of his players. The ambiguity leaves the audience to wonder whose side is he on, is he playing the part of Prince Siegfried or von Rothbart. In all actuality it is probably intended to be a combination of both, much like his leading lady.

Nina still lives with her mother, played perfectly by Barbara Hershey, and is a former ballerina herself, who no doubt pushed her daughter into this career path. Her mother simultaneously tries to coddle Nina and subvert her as she is envious of her daughter becoming more successful than she could ever be. The other older figure we see is the former prima ballerina, forced into retirement. Winona Ryder shows our lead what happens after the limelight is taken away, and what could be awaiting her. Her presence in the film adds to her fear of being overtook by another actress in the company. 

Then there is the seductress Mila Kunis, who mirrors Portman in almost every facet. The difference being the free-spirited nature she posses which threaten Nina as the prima ballerina. Lily is the most difficult character to decipher in the film as Nina may be influencing the audience by projecting onto her rival slash fried. Lily leaves the audience enchanted and unsure what to believe as she shares the same ambition as Nina and seems willing to do what is necessary. She, along with some of the other ballerinas, highlight the competitive nature of the theater and adds to the pressure of the protagonist to excel or risk being bypassed. It is a delicate balance of ruthlessness and friendship that Kunis shows well on the screen. Rarely are there many movies that deliver so many strong female characters, it is a credit to writers Mark Haymen and Andres Heinz. Oh and the girl on girl stuff is hot.

Taking away from the character development and evolution in the film is some of the dialouge. There is little to no subtlty in this film. Darren Aronofsky has a certain way he wants his viewers to feel and then beats you over the head with it. The writing also possess this trait by having the characters around Nina scream things at her that the audience should be inferring for themselves. This is in direct conflict with the rest of the film as Aronofsky rarely gives up his hand in showing what is real.

Similar to The Wrestler, Aronofsky chooses to use a hand held camera for most of the movie, using a lot of medium and close-up shots. The shakey camera work adds to the rocky experience that embodies the transformation. It forces the viewer quickly to encompass the style of movie and emerge yourself completely into the film or risk being left by the wayside. And no one wants to walk out of a movie disheartened, especially after spending all that money on popcorn. The movie at points is very ridiculous, in its premise and writing. To fully enjoy it, much like the performers in the play the directors ask you to submerge fully into the art, allowing it to take complete control. 

The movie is all about artistic obsession and if the art is supposed to reflect the artist than you have to wonder what is going on in Aronofsky's head. Especially considering so many of his films deal with a protagonist reaching for greatness in their career at the cost of everything else around them (read: The Wrestler, Pi). I just want someone to make sure he is okay, and let him know that people like his stuff. A

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December 28, 2010
"The beginning of the movie, is the movie" - very true! I see Oscars dancing in the distance...
December 28, 2010
I am so excited to go see this movie! Great review.
December 28, 2010
Sounds lovely. Fantastic review, Z!
December 25, 2010
Yup. I agree wholeheartedly. This is making my "Best of 2010 Films" for sure. Great review! I have featured this one!
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 . 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.  …
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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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