319 of 412 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing short of brilliant
Darren Aronofsky has been circling movie news sites pretty frequently as of late. He recently signed on to direct the stand-alone sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (appropriately titled The Wolverine). He also developed a rather large and devoted fanbase over the course of directing fantastically surreal films such as Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Wrestler, but his...
Published on December 3, 2010 by C. Sawin
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertainment Value Saved by Last Act, but Generally Simplistic and Gimmicky.
Darren Aronofsky made such a bold, provocative debut with "Pi" back in 1998. But his career has been nothing but overwrought un-realism ever since. "Black Swan" is an uninspired rehash of Roman Polanski's superb "Repulsion" (1965), about an apparently schizophrenic, sexually repressed young woman who descends into madness amid paranoid hallucinations and libidinous men...
Published on May 8, 2011 by mirasreviews
Most Helpful First | Newest First
319 of 412 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing short of brilliant,
Darren Aronofsky has been circling movie news sites pretty frequently as of late. He recently signed on to direct the stand-alone sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (appropriately titled The Wolverine). He also developed a rather large and devoted fanbase over the course of directing fantastically surreal films such as Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Wrestler, but his psychological thriller Black Swan has also been gaining quite a bit of steam leading up to its December 3rd release. Despite Aronofsky's already well-established reputation and the rather high anticipation for the film, Black Swan still delivers a product that is even better than expected.
Like most ballerinas, Nina (Portman) lives, breathes, and is completely devoted to dance. Artistic director Thomas Leroy (Cassel) is preparing a new spring production of his interpretation of Swan Lake. Nina is next in line to become prima ballerina after the former dancer to hold that spot, Beth Macintyre (Ryder), reluctantly retires. Everything seems to be shifting in that direction until a rather unorthodox, provocative, and unstable (in a dangerous kind of way) dancer named Lily (Kunis) arrives. Lily seems to have an eye for Nina's spot as soon as she walks through the door. Thomas begins to see Nina as the White Swan, which signifies innocence and perfection and Lily as the Black Swan, which is more sensual and deceptive. The problem is that one dancer is required to play both parts. Other than the stiff competition she has to deal with, The Swan Queen role begins to take its toll on Nina who begins to think Lily wants even more than her spot in the production. Nina's obsessive behavior leads to her releasing her dark side that she must now struggle to control.
Aronofsky has always had an exceptional eye for cinematography in his films. His use of micro-photography in The Fountain made the entire film a visually stunning spectacle that will stand the test of time while something like a someone's pupil dilating or a drug deal gone bad in Requiem for a Dream is memorable because of the way and angle Aronofsky shot it rather than relying on its disturbing content to make the scene a classic. Black Swan is no different. Being placed behind Nina whenever she heads to the dance venue gives the viewer a rather unique third person perspective that also gives the impression that you're walking right behind the main character of the film. The intense dream sequences are also shot in a way that flawlessly blur the line between reality and hallucination. Is this really happening or is it all a figment of Nina's deteriorating imagination? Figuring that out is half the film's charm.
The extraordinary main cast is the main ingredient to the film being as great as it is though. The key players all seem to have this twisted side to them that is nearly the exact opposite of the way they first appear to be, which coincides with the Swan Lake theme. Winona Ryder steals most of the screen time she's given whether she's trashing her dressing room, yelling obscenities in Portman's face, or sitting in a hospital room. Even though Mila Kunis seems to play nothing more than her role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall to the most extreme degree on the surface, it's the edge she's given that results in unpredictability for her character. While Vincent Cassel's performance is strong thanks to his sensual reputation with his dancers and Barbara Hersey is both charming and disturbing as Nina's mother who seems to secretly be trying to live in her daughter's dance shoes after a missed opportunity in her past, it's no surprise to hear that Natalie Portman is the heart of the film. Nina is so consumed with dance that she keeps pushing herself even when her mind and body begin to show her that she's had enough. Her breakdowns are heartbreaking and engaging to watch while her transformation by the end of the film can best be described as a monstrous beauty. It's all thanks to Portman's powerful, phenomenal, tour de force performance.
While some might not be surprised that Aronofsky has created yet another masterpiece, this may be his most solid and well-rounded film to date. Black Swan is a beautiful, disturbing, and captivating work of art that features gorgeous camera work, an excellent and mindbending story, and what is perhaps the performance of Natalie Portman's career. It's hard to argue with Black Swan being the best film of the year.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I Had The Craziest Dream Last Night",
With a story based on Russian folk tales, Pyotr Tchaikovsky composed SWAN LAKE about 1875. Although it was not well received on its debut, over time the ballet has become a world-wide favorite, and it is particularly noted for the fact that the prima ballerina must play both the virginal White Swan "Odette" and her alter ego, the wanton and evil Black Swan "Odile." Directed by Darren Aronofsky and with story and script fashioned by writers Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John McLaughlin, BLACK SWAN pivots on this schism--and owes a significant debt to three other notable films: PERSONA, in which two women have a relationship that confuses their personalities; THE RED SHOES, in which a ballerina becomes excessively involved in her role; and REPULSION, in which a sexually disturbed young woman collapses into insanity. The film also owes a debt to such films as MULHOLLAND DR in the sense that it is difficult to know what is really happening to the ballerina and what is only occurring in her own mind.
In a general sense, the story concerns ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), who has spent her career in the corps de ballet and whose great ambition as a dancer is to be absolutely perfect--an ambition that has rendered her flawless in precision but a shade lacking in passion. When the company's leading ballerina Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) is essentially dismissed due to increasing age and an unstable temperment, Nina is announced as the star of a new production of SWAN LAKE. Her confidence, however, is undermined by competing ballerina Lily (Mila Kunis), her suffocating mother (Barbara Hershey), and her choreographer (Vincent Cassel.) Under the pressure, and repeatedly told that she lacks the passion for the Black Swan, Nina begins to descend into a series of delusions that may be stress, personal fantasy, or flat out schizophrenia. All of the moments are presented with remarkable power, and they lead to an uncertain but powerful conclusion.
The cast is memorable throughout, and Natalie Portman justly walked away with an Oscar for her performance. At the same time, the film is not without flaws. The first half of the film feels somewhat slow and overall the movie is icy cold. Since every one of them deeply competitive and resorts to manipulation in an effort to dominate others, none of the characters are likeable or sympathetic, and the progression of the film seemed a bit spotty to me, skipping from one point to another without always connecting the dots. Even so, it is a truly intriguing film, wildly Freudian, intensely paranoid, and unusual in every way. Recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
129 of 173 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dark And Dangerous Delirium Of The Dance,
With this dark and audacious look at artistry and dance, bad boy auteur Darren Aronofsky once again pushes a film's intensity past all point of reason. "Black Swan" will be alternately hailed a masterpiece and an over-indulgent piece of excess. Or, more appropriately, perhaps it is a masterpiece of excess. More akin to the fantastical setting of "The Fountain" than to the confrontational realism of "The Wrestler," Aronofsky has created a remarkably vivid bit of lunacy with "Black Swan." And to be fair, I think he absolutely succeeds in what he has set out to do--creating a hyper dramatic nightmare that blurs the lines between reality and madness. Thematically, many films have covered the same ground--but few so visually, stylishly, or in so unapologetic a way. No matter how many films Aronofsky unleashes on the world, I will always hold the feverish "Requiem For a Dream" closest to my heart--but for visceral thrills, "Black Swan" rates a very high second.
Equal parts "The Turning Point," "All About Eve," and "Repulsion," "Black Swan" tells the story of a ballerina struggling for perfection. Natalie Portman is cast as the dancer given the shot of a lifetime--to play the lead in a new revival of "Swan Lake." It's a dream part, but one that is fraught with peril. The director, Vincent Cassel, thinks Portman is perfect for the technical aloofness of the program's White Swan but lacks the fire and abandon when the dance transforms her into the Black Swan. And Portman pushes herself and pushes herself, to the point that her body is manifesting strange physical trauma. Cassel tries to unleash the passion of the Black Swan while the company's newest dancer (Mila Kunis) seems to embody the darker freedoms that Portman needs to embrace to be successful. And the more Portman throws herself into the role mentally and physically, the film starts to push into the territory of unrepentant psychological thriller.
Portman's descent into madness is exquisitely uncomfortable and off kilter. As the film becomes progressively violent and unpredictable, the lines between what is real and what is imagined become impossible to untangle. Aronofsky stages it all like a brilliantly choreographed high wire act. If you go with the flow, you'll be caught up in a thrillingly original nightmare. Portman has never been better. She pushes herself both physically and psychologically here, and hers is surely one of the most heartrending and affecting performances of the year. Cassel is perfect straddling the line between mentor and villain, Kunis has just the requisite wildness, and Barbara Hershey goes for broke as Portman's domineering mother. However, in approximately three minutes of screen time, it is Winona Ryder (as an aging dancer replaced by Portman) that provides one of the film's most indelible performances.
That said, I did love "Black Swan." I won't say that it's brilliantly filled with deep meaning--but I will say that it's brilliantly entertaining. The dancing is perfection and the final performance is absolutely chilling, truly not something to be forgotten! A great score (it's hard to go wrong using Tchaikovsky), dynamic cinematography, top notch performances, fantastic visual effects all combine to make this one of the truly memorable films of 2010. Let's hope Aronofsky never loses his touch for demented fever dreams--even as he's moving into Wolverine territory. KGHarris, 12/10.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unstable ballerina loses grip on reality and plunges into a pit of madness...,
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It's easy to see that Darren Aronofsky was influenced by the classic THE RED SHOES ('48), except that the '48 film did not telegraph its tragic ending which came as somewhat of an abrupt surprise. On the other hand, BLACK SWAN telegraphs its outcome from Scene One, the major fault of the film which ends on an extremely downbeat note.
The highlight of BLACK SWAN is the presentation of the ballet music and all of the behind-the-scenes tension brought on by the determination of ballet maestro VINCENT CASSEL to find a dancer who can be both The White Swan and The Black Swan with equal expertise. He is impressed by NATALIE PORTMAN's skill as The White Swan but tells her she must experience life and love to the utmost in order to provide the proper passion for her darker side as the evil swan. It's hard to believe that he doesn't spot the flaws in her personality that make her unable to face the demands of the ballet world. However, he's excellent in his role, as is MILA KUNIS as her cunning rival.
Portman's mother (BARBARA HERSHEY) seems to be as neurotic as her unstable daughter in a Mommie Dearest sort of way. Their scenes together amp up what we know is bound to be a fatalistic end to an unhappy story. As the rival ballerina, MILA KUNIS provides plenty of jealousy for Portman, already unnerved by the demands that Cassel places on her emoting. Inevitably, Portman is pushed over the edge by all of her hallucinations and insecurities until she falls into a pit of darkness from which there is no escape.
Portman's skill as an actress is evident, overcoming any objections some might have to the heavy use of a body double for the difficult ballet moves. She gives her character dimension and pity, despite the unpleasant aspects of the character's irritating personality.
Worth a look for the performances alone, but beware that the dark side looms large in just about every scene which some might find too depressing for their taste and the sexual content is close to pornographic at times.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I Was Perfect...",
This review is from: Black Swan (Amazon Instant Video)
Make no mistake, "Black Swan" is a difficult film to watch, and leaves you with an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach and on the nape of your neck long after the credits have rolled.
Twenty-eight year old ballet dancer Nina (Natalie Portman) is desperate to land the part of the Swan Queen in her company’s latest production of Swan Lake, but is unsure about how to achieve this goal. According to the sleazy director Thomas Leroy, she’s perfect for the role of the white swan, but lacks the assertiveness and sensuality of the black. Nina becomes so consumed with her quest for perfection (which is doomed to fail considering the black swan calls for a sense of *imperfection*) that her mind and body start to throw out clear signals that she’s had enough.
And this is essentially what we end up watching: a young woman’s prolonged mental breakdown as she’s torn between the classic Madonna/Whore dichotomies. On the one hand she’s a “sweet girl” who still lives with her mother in a room full of stuffed animals and a ballerina music box, on the other she’s being driven into the role of the black swan, a mental space where she’s intensely uncomfortable at having her prolonged sexual awakening forced upon her.
To make things more difficult, Nina is acutely aware of how unfavourably she compares to a new dancer within the company, a young woman called Lily (Mila Kunis) who is the embodiment of the spontaneous and sexual black swan. As Lily is clearly after the part herself, Nina is suspicious of her overtures of friendliness. Is she being sincere? Is she trying to gaslight her? You're never quite sure, and although Portman took home the Oscar for her portrayal of the nervy Nina, Kunis deserves some credit in the way she captures the duality of Lily, namely Lily herself, and the Lily that exists in Nina’s overwrought mind.
Others more eloquent than I will mention the nuances and symbolism of Nina's mental breakdown, but I *did* notice a lot of interesting things with its colour palette. Obviously Nina is associated strongly with white and pink, whilst Lily (despite her “white” name) leans heavily toward black. Nina’s mother dwells in shades of green, perhaps to denote the envy she holds toward her young, talented, beautiful daughter (it’s established that she herself used to be a ballerina but had to drop out when she got pregnant). Red lipstick also plays its part, and mirrors are everywhere, exemplifying the theme of doppelgangers and the dual role of the swan.
It's a harrowing, unsettling and at times downright confusing film, focusing on the unfair standards of perfection that are forced on a lot of young women and the impossible lengths they go to in order to live up to them.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BLACK SWAN GETS INSIDE YOU,
The greatness of Black Swan lies in its power to evoke. This review is sort of about all the other reviews. Like a flawed gemstone, what you see depends upon what facet you look at. Reviews that love Black Swan or hate it show the reviewers often going through a process of struggle to come to grips with Black Swan and express their judgments. Director Darren Aronofsky drives a stiletto into your mind with his vast store of cinematic tricks; your reaction may be negative. Deciding what is reality puts your mind in an uproar. Because of the constant close camera work on Natalie Portman, I felt the film was emotionally grueling while visually enthralling. The ending is a head-spinner. How well you can tolerate ambiguity, disturbing images, multiple themes, and so on, will determine whether you like it or not. Overall, I thought Black Swan was a difficult, but compelling experience.
The film rests mainly on the phenomenal artistic control displayed by Natalie Portman. Her gradual slide from White Swan to Black is a tremendous acting achievement. Her physical effort in the role of Nina is reminiscent of Robert DeNiro's "Raging Bull". Her performance draws strength from a superb supporting cast headed by Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, and Mila Kunis. Others have discussed technical aspects of Black Swan better than I can.
Before I say what I think Black Swan is about, let me say that Black Swan operates on many levels at once. You can say it's art house porn and be correct, and say it is a meditation on the pursuit of perfection and also be correct. Here the film's ambiguity wraps itself around you and starts to squeeze.
Black Swan is encoded with all sorts of symbols and images (particularly mirrors) you may pick up on. Some are blatantly, crudely obvious, like the winged tattoo on rival Lily's back (Mila Kunis). Others, like the rave scene in the nightclub, are not apparent unless you stop-frame the sequence and see just what is spilling out of Nina's psyche. Things Lily says to Nina are often prophetic.
The opening dance/dream sequence defines Nina's baseline mental state: virginal innocence that flees from sexuality by transforming into a safe, pure White Swan. Compare that sequence with dance director Thomas' (Vincent Cassel) sexually harassing Nina later on to get Nina to express passion in her dancing, and you get a sense that there is a lot of sophisticated overlapping going on between Nina's mental state and the Swan Lake storyline.
When Nina finishes performing the Black Swan coda in the film's finale, we see two enormous winged shadows behind her as she basks in triumph before a wild audience. This suggests maybe she has reached some sort of spiritual equilibrium between her light and dark side while also being totally insane. Other clues are in her name: 'Nina" means 'little girl' in Spanish, as other reviewers have noted. Also, 'Nina' could be a nod to prima ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, as perfect a ballerina as there ever was. When Nina goes to work, in the film's beginning, she is wrapped in feathery, downy neck warmers. The film is rich with possible clues to completing the Nina puzzle.
Okay, so what is Black Swan really about? It's about a 'chick' desperately trying to break out of her shell so she can flap her wings and leave her mother's nest. Remember, Black Swan is a flawed gem. Turn it another way you will see something else.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another triumph for Aronofsky,
In Black Swan, Natalie Portman stars as Nina, a ballerina fighting for the top part in a production of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake." She replaces an older ballerina (Winona Ryder), but not without competition from a younger doppelgänger (Mila Kunis). It is similar to director Darren Aronofsky's previous film "The Wrestler," in that it is about someone who earns a living with through intense physical discipline (most of Nina's dancing was done by Portman herself, and it is excellent), the stress aging has on their careers, and the fear of becoming irrelevant and obsolete. In many respects, though, this film is closest in tone to Aronofsky's second (and best) film "Requiem for a Dream," in that, while you may not want to watch it again for a while, it is a thoroughly engrossing and heartbreaking portrayal of someone on a downward spiral. Hypnotic and brilliant. A strange, sad and powerful film.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertainment Value Saved by Last Act, but Generally Simplistic and Gimmicky.,
Darren Aronofsky made such a bold, provocative debut with "Pi" back in 1998. But his career has been nothing but overwrought un-realism ever since. "Black Swan" is an uninspired rehash of Roman Polanski's superb "Repulsion" (1965), about an apparently schizophrenic, sexually repressed young woman who descends into madness amid paranoid hallucinations and libidinous men. "Repulsion" is a great film, while "Black Swan" is overwrought, gimmicky, not the least bit credible, and badly acted -not that it matters considering the superficiality of the exercise. It's also a ballet movie with hardly any ballet in it. Natalie Portman is in great shape but looks absurdly strained performing the simplest of movements.
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is an emotionally disturbed young ballerina who seems to be living out the ambitions of her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey). Nevertheless, she is the hardest-working ballerina in her company, technically perfect, but lacking a certain passion. She dreams of dancing the Swan Queen in "Swan Lake", and, to her surprise and everyone else's, the company's choreographer Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) gives her the part. Mr. Leroy is confident in Nina's ability to play the White Swan but is concerned that she lacks the sexual energy and transcendence to play the Black Swan. The problem preoccupies Nina as well, and the stress erodes her grasp on reality and brings on increasingly violent psychotic episodes.
Natalie Portman does not have the acting chops for this role. She does not know how to convey emotion except by emoting. She does the entire film with furrowed brow. A better actress could have made Nina's torment believable but not her situation. It's simply not credible that this weak, flagrantly unstable person would possess the single-minded drive of a professional ballet dancer, much less that anyone would give her the lead in a production. She looks like she's going to have an anxiety attack in every scene. Mila Kunis, on the other hand, is charismatic as rival ballerina Lily, who seems to be genuinely trying to be friendly and helpful to Nina despite the latter's paranoia. Kunis' sassy, lewd and tattooed temptress screams out for more screen time than she gets.
Instead, we get crotch shots, hallucinations, CGI that allows Nina to sprout feathers, and very little ballet. On the bright side, "Black Swan" gets better as it goes along, because the story grows into Natalie Portman's panicked performance. By the final act, Nina has reason to break down under the stresses of her paranoia, hallucinations, and determination to become the Black Swan. The film is saved by good pacing, a suspenseful final act, and a climactic ending. But one lesson that filmmakers should find in "Black Swan" is that there is little point in setting a movie in a ballet company if there isn't going to be ballet dancing in it. Another is that a character's personality has to suit her role. And don't expect untalented actresses to be able to carry a dramatic film for an hour and 50 minutes.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent show,
This review is from: Black Swan (Amazon Instant Video)
I thought it was pretty good, but don't understand what all the "hype" was about the movie.Unless you take into account the lesbian scene, which on reflection, must have gotten people's attention. It was pretty hot from the male perspective. Not a great first date video because it would make most women uncomfortable, but it did have enough twists and turns to make it interesting so I'll give it 4 stars.
18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Obsession,
It's obvious that this is not going to be a happy story. There are no surprises, there is no sugar-coating, just the relentless tension of watching an uptight woman-child lose what little mental stability she has. This is a trip into the lacuna of obsession that will speak to you if you've ever been there or have watched someone you love lose themselves in their myopic pursuit of perfection. But you don't need to have been there to empathize with Nina, you just have to be willing to accept that some people go cuckoo when their self-worth has been built upon something as precarious as the approval required to succeed as a professional artist.
What I love is that this movie doesn't glorify Nina's self-destruction, it just shows you in "full-frontal" style brutality what it's like to be in her (toe)shoes. At least that's what I got from watching it three times.
Don't write Black Swan off because it's one of those "arty" movies. You don't need to be "highbrow" or able to deconstruct every scene to enjoy how beautifully done it was either. Think of it as Fear & Loathing with ballerinas and no attorneys. FYI, If you're one of those "practical" people that has a hard time understanding situations that are foreign to you, you might want to move along as this probably won't seem realistic to you.
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Black Swan [Blu-ray] by Darren Aronofsky (Blu-ray - 2011)