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 ( Nathalia can be reached at

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].


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