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Black Swan (2010)

A 2010 psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky.

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Black Swan

  • Dec 31, 2010
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Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina with a New York City ballet company. She lives in an apartment with her former-ballerina mother (Barbara Hershey) who smothers her and treats her like a child and clearly resents her success. Nina wears a lot of pink and has a room full of stuffed animals and a little ballerina-topped music box that Mommy plays for her before she goes to sleep each night.
As the film begins, aging prima ballerina Beth (Winona Ryder) has been forced into retirement and lecherous director Thomas Leroy casts Nina as the Swan Queen in the company's upcoming production of Swan Lake. The only problem is that a new ballerina named Lily has just joined the company and has clearly caught Leroy's eye. Actually that's not the only problem. An even bigger problem is that Nina is a paranoid schizophrenic who's convinced that Lily is out to get her.

It's not long before the audience learns that almost every creepy thing Nina sees or hears is really just her imagination. I fell for them the first few times but soon learned to limit my reaction to reserved skepticism. "Hmm, is that real?", I'd disinterestedly wonder. "Nope, not real."... "What about this? Is this real?" "Nope, that's not real either."

Many of Nina's hallucinations involve blood - her fingers are bleeding, her toes are bleeding. Although one time one of her toes really IS bleeding, just to keep us on our toes, I guess. (Ha, accidental ballet pun.) Once Nina imagines that her toes are webbed, which I knew wasn't real right away, clever sod that I am. Although I did believe some kid in 6th grade who told me that if you make a small incision on the inside of two adjacent toes and then tape the two together, they'll grow back webbed. And I'm still rather intrigued by the idea.

Often Nina's back is scratched and bleeding - for real - but this is from some sort of nervous tic where she mauls herself in her sleep. Luckily Mom is Johnny-on-the-spot with the nail scissors to perform a little protective grooming, but oops, she cuts one nail a little too short and now Nina's finger really IS bleeding. I know how she feels; I did the same thing to one of my dogs when he was a puppy and now I have to use a dremel.

One of the big themes of "Black Swan" is that Nina's virginal frigidity is preventing her from cutting loose and becoming a really great dancer. Leroy even gives her a homework assignment to go home and pleasure herself. In fact, all told, three people's hands make their way to Nina's crotch over the course of the film, Nina's included. This probably isn't one you want to go out to see with your parents after the big Christmas dinner.

One problem I had with "Black Swan" is that Nina is not the least bit likable. Nor is her mother.  Nor is Leroy.  Nor is Beth. The only person in the whole film who seems even sort of ok is Lily, and she's supposedly the evil one who's secretly trying to trip up Nina so she can take her place. 

The other problem I had was that the fake thrills are just tiresome after a while. As, quite frankly, are the ballet scenes. Yes, I know it's a movie about a ballerina but it got to the point where I couldn't wait for Nina to stop dancing so she could go back to imagining that her eyes were bright red or her mirror images were acting independently. Basically the movie boils down to three things: dancing, hallucinations, and masturbation. All things considered, I'll take the psychosis.

I don't think I was the only one in the audience who was not particularly into the movie. Late in the film there was a smattering of laughter during an intense scene that was definitely not supposed to be funny and there'd been occasional giggling on and off throughout. I think this is the sort of movie that has just enough campiness to really hit it big on the midnight cult circuit.

Oftentimes I start out liking something, but it loses me somewhere along the way; "Black Swan" is one of those rare films that I disliked all the way through, from beginning to end. Natalie Portman is a good actress and Tchaikovsky is a great composer but after almost two hours of watching her descend into lunacy accompanied by his music - which I now have stuck in my head! - I'd had more than enough of both of them.

One weird parting observation: Darren Aronofsky directed both "Black Swan" and "The Wrestler" and both films have scenes in which the main character has small bits of metal (barbs for her, staples for him) pulled out of their back. Pretty sick coincidence, wouldn't you say?

One final word of warning: I recall hearing a story about my long deceased grandmother Gammy going to see "Last Tango in Paris" (rated "X") because she mistakenly thought it was a movie about dancing. Though "Black Swan" is only rated "R" and it does have quite a bit of dancing, it's definitely not for the Gammies of the world.

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May 06, 2011
What a great review! You captured my thoughts exactly. During a couple of special effects shots I almost giggled. The biggest problem for me was, as you said, no one was likable. I didn't care what happened. I don't think the movie deserved all the buzz; must have been a slow year.
December 31, 2010
First negative review I've read about this film. You make some interesting points. Not sure when I will see this one, but I'm very curious what I will think. BTW: I do enjoy when a "villain" suddenly becomes more likable than a "hero." Thanks for all the details!
December 31, 2010
Yah, I realize I'm in the minority here. I just didn't feel the same sense of terror that seemed to grip most people watching this. Perhaps the constant chit-chat from the two girls behind me kept me grounded in reality.
January 04, 2011
LOL! Yeah, that could have ruined the mood of the film. But, there's nothing wrong with being in the minority. I was in the minority with my review of The Social Network, located here if you want to read it:
January 05, 2011
Just read it. Good review, but like the others, I liked "The Social Network" more than you did. I wasn't at all bored and I thought it had some of the best dialogue I've seen in ages. And I particularly liked the opening scene that you hated. Thing is, you still gave it a +1, which I'm interpreting as a mild recommendation, right? My review is posted on another site where I gave it 8 out of 10, which I'm assuming would be a +3 here? I guess I'm a little confused about the scale here.
January 05, 2011
Thanks for reading it, Virharding! Yeah, I find I'm in the major minority with that film. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy it. It was more of an "ok" film, which is why I gave it a +1 rather than anything lower. It wasn't as spectacular as I hoped. -1 through +1 is my average on this site, with -1 leaning towards the negative side of the average. I see that as my "0" range. 

I'm not sure how the ratings compare here with other sites. I made up my own comparison, which I listed at my profile if you want to check it out:

A lot of people actually only use the +1-+5 scale, but I utilize the negatives. I don't reviews at any sites that use a 1-10 rating, so I translated mine Lunch ratings for a scale of +1-+5 for other sites. I use Lunch as the norm, aka the scale everything else compares to. :)
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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Member Since: Dec 13, 2010
Last Login: Mar 30, 2011 04:18 AM UTC
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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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