Movies

Movie Review: Black Swan

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Shockingly disturbing. Words cannot adequately convey how hauntingly devastating “Black Swan” is. 

Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream,” “Pi”, “The Wrestler”) crafts a visceral masterwork of an intimately dark portrait of a prima ballerina, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman).

Ballet is Nina’s entire existence. Being the “Swan Queen,” the lead in the new rendition of “Swan Lake,” becomes her sole purpose.  Beautiful, fearful and fragile, Nina excels as the purely innocent White Swan. Sweet but frigid, precision or control is second nature to her. In order to shine, however, she also needs to be able to channel her passion and spread her wings freely as the vigorously seductive twin, Black Swan.

In “Swan Lake,” a princess-turned-white swan longs for freedom, which could only be had when the spell is broken by a prince. Tricked by her “evil twin”, the prince falls for the black swan instead. The white swan dives off a cliff and finds freedom in her death.

In a surprising turn of event, Nina is selected as the lead soloist and then coached by the lecherous school director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). Living with her overbearing and self-projecting mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), Nina is constantly egged on to be the performer that her mother could not be in her prime time.

A wounded paranoid, Nina spends her life in the bubble of her pink-hued, childlike bedroom and insulated school of ballet. She’s utterly frightened that an uninhibited newcomer, ‘Lily’ (Mila Kunis), is out to take her crown – just like she did earlier with a retiring star of the past, dramatically bitter Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder).

“Black Swan” provides a glimpse of the rigorous practices that ballet dancers have to go through in perfecting their art. Will Nina break through her self-destructive cycle, withstand the pressure and triumph? Or will she drown in her fixation on perfection and break down in insanity?

Mirrors and contrasting colors of black, white and red are used to reflect darkness, light and blood, which are predominant in Nina’s life. The music rhythmically underscores the graceful and forceful movements. While Portman’s raw encounter with Kunis on screen may have stolen the spotlight surrounding the release of the film, it’s a small sequence that, dare I say, doesn’t have much bearing on the overall story. This transformative role demands Portman to give the performance of her life in so many different ways.

Trapped in a nightmarish pursuit for perfection, there is an aching desperation in Nina’s obsession that I can’t help but feel for her. At the same time, bizarrely realistic imageries in her hallucinations make my skin crawl – and it’s virtually impossible to look away. Combined with distorted cuts of scenes and jarring score, psychosexual thriller “Black Swan” is on par with or intensely scarier than some horror movies.

“Black Swan” ties with soul-shattering “Shutter Island” as the most terrifying film of the year.

Copyright (c) 2010. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, lifestyle/travel writer and film columnist. She owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven (http://themoviemaven.posterous.com). Nathalia can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com.

"Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com."

6 Comments

  1. adrian loving

    December 28, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    This review was right on point. I saw Black Swan and was blown away by its subject matter, audacity and suspense. For most of the film, i couldn’t tell whether it was sci-fantasy, horror or thriller. Portman’s role was Oscar quality and I hope she gets a nomination. All that must be done to prepare your body, mind and emotions for this role, Natalie nailed it. And seeing Barbara Hershey as the dark, brooding mom took me Back to Brian De Palma’s “Carrie”. Hershey is no newcomer to horror as in her 1982 film “The Entity”. Amazing casting, art direction and narrative! Black Swan ranks as one of my top 3 best films this year, right next to Inception.

  2. andrew

    December 28, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    suspense is not a word that i would associate with this pile of pants. a trampylittle american film trying to be a clever french avant g—-sod this, i have wasted too much time of my life as it is on this dribble.

  3. jj

    December 30, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Wow!! This movie is incredible. We all know that natalie Portman is a brilliant actress but what struck me as the most unexpected in this film was Mila Kunis’s performance. She was sexy, seductive, and dark. This film shows how far she has come since her Jackie character on That 70’s Show. Bravo!!! This film deserves every award it is nominated for

  4. Bart Teush

    January 1, 2011 at 10:04 am

    The movie is one of the few film attempts (compare Polanski’s REPULSION) to put an audience in the mind of a schizophrenic. It is not a thriller although it is thrilling. It is not a horror film, although many moments are horrible to watch. It is certainly not about dancers in any limited sense. It is about the naked abuse and exploitation of a young woman’s disease for the sake of fine art, self-aggrandizement and jealousy by those who have failed, fear failure, or feed on failure, including a mother, a ballet company Director, and the dancer’s peers. I’m surprised no one here or in the media at large begins with the obvious premise of the film–a document of the abuse and exploitation of madness. As a thriller it is laughable; as a case study it is magnetic, brilliant and indelibly disturbing.

  5. Elizabeth

    January 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    The above comment by Bart Teush perfectly explains Black Swan. From the very start of the movie, the audience only sees the Nina’s world through Nina’s delusional paranoia. It is Nina’s point of view – so even the smaller scenes – such as Nina’s “seeing” Lily laughing at her after Nina is formally announced at the fancy party for donors – are perfect building blocks to her ultimate, tragic breakdown. Having worked for a major ballet company, I was glad to see the ugliness, hard work and starvation that goes into the illusion of the ballet on stage. A well done ballet performance is mesmerizing, glorious to observe and creates a suspension of disbelief, however, all of this magic is often to the detrement of the health of the dancers.

  6. emily

    January 14, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    DISTURBING.

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