on May 12, 2011
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.
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.
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
on August 24, 2014
This is an extraordinary work of art. It's a seamless presentation in which every aspect of the production from actors to film editing is one perfect piece. It is just outstanding, and I think deserved more recognition and wins at the Academy Awards.
on September 4, 2013
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.
on February 10, 2013
Worth seeing because it's a great film, using predominantly real ballet dancers, but most compellingly for Barbara Hershey's performance alone as the mother -- a manipulative, creepy, disenchanted former-dancer. This film is unnerving, compelling and darkly captivating. (The Academy Awards nomination process was undermined (once again) when they completely passed over Hershey for even a Best Supporting Actress nomination, which she also should have won!) Natalie poured herself into this role, spending a year reviving and toning up her childhood ballet skills, to be a convincing prima ballerina. (The dubbed dancing, to up her own very-impressive game to convincing prima status, is undiscernably woven in.) The very young dancers from the PA Ballet (who were cast as the fictitious corps de ballet) understood what too large a percentage of the preview audience did not -- that much of what happens is symbolic or imagined, and reflects the fears and altered reality of the main character, who is ascending toward her long-coveted goals while descending into madness. (The dancers felt compelled to point out that, in their experience, the world of ballet is not nearly so relentlessly competitive and cut-throat as portrayed and that the story could be told of any relentlessly driven perfectionist in so many professions. The same can be said of parents who pour their own ambitions onto their child, to the point of perversion.)
It is not a ballet movie so much as a study of human ambition and mental frailty. But all things portrayed in the movie may or may not be reality -- it flows so thoroughly back and forth, it can drive a viewer insane to try to make literal sense of it all, so just go with the flow, assume you are viewing everything through the mind of a girl going mad, and be thoroughly carried along. Mila Kunis is captivating as the fresh competition who, seemingly, has her act together.
You can easily overlook one or two slightly awkward performances by supporting males, as they went for great dancers first in some cases.
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.
on April 3, 2014
To me, Black Swan is similar to an independent film. Such films often take the liberty of jumping outside the box to show viewers something they thought was invisible. Black Swan's plot isn't made of deep character development or the demands of ballet. It takes your psyche along with "Nina" on a ride to an unknown destination. How much you take in along the way is up to you. Acting, writing, directing and production were outstanding. Portman, Kunis, Hershey and the rest of the cast were excellent. Cast chemistry was great. Graphic scenes and complex, often disturbing, subject matter make this movie an off-limits choice for kids. Don't watch when you're tired.
on January 25, 2012
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.
on July 30, 2011
This film has many elements I like. It has good acting, dance, music, weirdness, memorable scenes, and, of course, Natalie Portman. What it lacks, though, is a believable story. It's too contrived. I wanted to enjoy it, I really did, especially after the hoopla at the Oscars, but it left me cold.
Natalie Portman's character, Nina, is a ballerina with great technical ability, a perfectionist. But she is obviously insecure, uptight and all-too-fragile. She always seems to have a pained expression on her face and is not the vision of a prima ballerina. I simply could not accept that Nina would ever be a serious contender for the challenging role as the Swan Queen. Even the director of the ballet questions her ability to transform into the fiery and aggressive Black Swan.
Yet Nina is chosen for the role. If she were not, of course, there would be no story. Honestly, that seems the only reason why she was picked. Her meek, fragile character provided a convenient baseline for the horrific transformation to follow. Once chosen, Nina's decline is disturbing and often difficult to watch. She eventually reaches a place where she is unable to separate fantasy from reality. Her transformation into the Black Swan is complete and the tragic ending predictable.