Black Swan

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Notable Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder

Rating: R

Review:  Read anything else I’ve written so far and you’ll notice my love for action.  I have a soft spot for all things Statham, I watch the craziest of horror films, and some of my favorites include Predator, Crank, and Starship Troopers.  So why the hell am I writing a positive review for a film about ballet?  Have I gone soft?  Is it worth the revoking of a man card?  I retort: is it worth it to watch Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis get nasty in the bedroom?  *Brakes come to a screeching halt*  I’ll be taking my man card back right about now.  Black Swan is a tightly wound psychological thriller fully charged with loads of sexuality that makes ballet actually look badass.  Stemming from the direction of Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain/Requiem For A Dream/The Wrestler), the film is drenched in his influence from the chaotic camera work to the extreme visuals.   It’s the perfect date movie!  Guys can convince their girlfriends to go because it’s about ballet, while girls can convince their boyfriends to go and watch the Portman/Kunis dirtiness.  Everybody wins!  Black Swan is also a perfect example of why I love awards season, because companies hold their best efforts for last.

Nina (Portman) is a ballet dancer who has high aspirations for this year’s season, after it is made clear that reigning star Beth Macintyre (Ryder) is being pushed out for a new face.  The director, Thomas Leroy (Cassel), has chosen to start the new season with his interpretation of Swan Lake, making the most sought after part the Swan Queen.  To play the part though, the dancer must be able to embody both the purity of the white swan and the animalistic nature of the black swan.  Nina fits the part of the white swan perfectly, but is much too controlled and rigid to play the free-spirited and sensual black swan.  Enter the newest edition to the company, Lily (Kunis).  Lily is the black swan incarnate.  Her dancing is provocative in a natural way even if her technique isn’t perfect, and she possesses the wild side that Nina so lacks.  A certain bond starts developing between the two, after Nina sees there is much she can learn from the new addition.  Nina eats, sleeps, and breathes dance, thanks to her mother who had to give up her dancing career to raise her.  This makes nailing the part of swan queen even more important to the rising star.  Nina has mastered the white swan, but can she break her perfectionist attitude and develop a darker side to unleash for the black swan?  But more importantly, can she prevent letting her obsession of the swan queen part consume her life?

Can she also find a cure to the rage virus spreading through the UK???

Black Swan requires the full attention of the viewer for maximum appreciation.  Symbolism runs rampant through every scene, as the film finds any way to play with the colors black and white on the characters.  Examples range from the simplest of forms, like Nina always wearing a white tank top and Lily always wearing a black one, to the less noticeable, like how Nina covers up the black tank top Lily gives her at the bar, but as soon as she lets loose she is seen wearing the black top.  Another glaring example is the tattoo on Lily’s back, showing a black drawing of feathered wings.  Even the simplest of minds can decipher the message that Lily is the black swan presence from the numerous visual helpers, but the symbols add to the creative nature of the visuals in a wildly enjoyable manner.

Black Swan is also extremely easy to get lost in, making it hard at times to tell what is actually happening in the real life of the film.  The film obviously follows Natalie Portman’s character Nina, and we’re seeing all the actions take place as they are in their mind.  Most of the time it’s crystal clear what she is imagining versus what is really happening, but as the film picks up pace you get hit with a seemingly endless barrage of curve balls that makes you question your thinking of previous actions.  It becomes a little hard to believe what the story is telling you, but that was part of the beauty of the film itself.  I actually had to explain the happenings to numerous people because they couldn’t separate Nina’s fantasy and reality.  To call Black Swan a mindf%ck is an understatement and should be deemed a much more confusing term like mindorgy.  You’ll be hit from all sides by this cinematic treat, but using your noggin has never been so rewarding.

Watching from Nina’s point of view was my favorite part of the film, because of the way she portrayed herself changing into the black swan.  Watching from the outside looking in would not have been half as much fun.  If Black Swan was shot as a straight drama, it would have been a total snooze fest.  Instead, we watch such interesting scenes like Nina pulling tiny black feathers from her skin as she actually pictures herself morphing into the creature like I was watching an old “Animorphs” episode after school again.  Black Swan was visually spectacular and convincing enough to actually make you believe some of her ridiculous fantasies were actually a mind bending reality.  This only added to the confusion of the film, but again that was the utter beauty of it also.

The cast did a superb job on their parts, particularly Natalie Portman.  Don’t expect much Winona Ryder who is barely in the film honestly, maybe garnering 15 minutes of screen time.  Back to Portman though, she convincingly transformed her character from start to finish and looked the part of a ballerina to the smallest detail.  Being one of the best performances of the year by far, Portman will shock and awe you with how intense she makes her part as she transforms.  She had no boundaries in this film, something all male viewers can be thankful of.  But in a professional sense, this was a career defining role for the actress who really brings all her emotions to the character of Nina.  All the other acting was splendid as well, but nothing else worth noting and nothing rivaling the delusional lead.

In short, Black Swan was another impressive entry into what is turning out to be a spectacular year for film.  In my eyes, it’s one of the most entertaining psychological thrillers I have ever seen, using so many visual pieces thrown together with an imaginative and original script.  Everything worked for the film, generating interest out of confusion.  I didn’t mind working out all the scenarios in my head one bit because of all the talent that created the Black Swan.   I can’t say this for every film, but Black Swan definitely falls into the category of being a work of “art” instead of just a mere movie.  Call it a game changer or any other related phrase, but Black Swan turned out to be one of the most intelligent and well crafted films of the year hands down.

Final Rating: 9.5 times I re-watched the Kunis/Portman scene on YouTube out of 10

I believe a SCHWING! is in order….


About Matt Donato

I love all things film. I'll watch any genre, any actor, at any time. This whole film critic thing is a passionate hobby for now which I'm balancing with working in the business world, but hey, someday, who knows?
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1 Response to Black Swan

  1. Pingback: 2010: Recap of the Good, the Bad, and Everything Else | Cinema Scrutiny

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