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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2012
One reviewer said that this is a movie that needs to be watched several times to really understand it. I watched this the other night and came away feeling the same way and it was one film that really left an impact on me. I guess that's what a good movie should do even though this one was very disturbing and really didn't have any happy moments in it. It was hard to understand how a dancer like Nina could be so impassioned and still be able to perform. Her personality was almost devoid of any character, kind of lifeless and sort of moving from one scene to the next just willing to move one foot in front of the other. The world of ballet was portrayed as kind of a highly competitive almost vicious atmosphere. Take the scene for instance when the prima ballerina, Beth, is denied the lead role and retires from the company. I didn't realize at the time that Winona Ryder was in that role and I think that she has really matured to take on a part that was so difficult and punishing as we see her all mangled and bruised and bitter. Barbara Hershey as the domineering mother was especially good in that role and they couldn't have picked a more talented actress for the part--a disgruntled, "has-been" dancer whose career was cut short by giving birth to Nina. Then there is Lily this amoral newcomer on the scene who becomes almost a nemesis to Nina but awakens a passion in her that embodies the Black Swan. All the scenes of dreams and surreal images are pretty effective and gives the feeling that it's hard to distinguish them from reality, which poor Nina is subject to all throughout the movie. We witness her self mutilation and just utter helplessness as she tries to perform to the artistic director's demands, her mother's demands, and in the end it's just too much!
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34 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2010

Look guys, I do "get it". Before you tell me to "go watch a Die Hard box set", let me say that I am an adult moviegoer and I see at least 50 smaller/indie/foreign/what have you movies a year. So therefore that defense it totally useless. OK, now let's get on with the review.

I'm not really down with Darren Aronofsky to begin with. I saw Requiem For A Dream When I was teen and boy, that film messed me up good. I was compelled to watch it after being shown a compilation of clips in an anti-drug presentation, so I sought out my friend, who has quite possibly the biggest DVD collection ever. After it was done... well let's say that movie taught me my lesson about drugs well enough. In the following years his films didn't really do much- Pi was an incomprehensible mess, The Fountain I watched 3 times and didn't get, and The Wrestler started off nice but ended poorly. However, I was interested in Black Swan when I saw the trailer with Paranormal Activity 2, so tonight I finally saw it.

About the dancing scenes, as much as I actively participate in dance but know nothing about ballet, I thought they were well done. Like I said, I know absolutely nothing about ballet, so you best not trust my judgment. I thought Natalie Portman did a fantastic job, and I totally believed that Natalie did her own dancing. I thought the cast did pretty good jobs considering they were not dancers to begin with. Natalie's performance is, of course, the reason to see the movie. She is pure cash money with each performance, and this movie shows. Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey were good too. Oh and the movie looked pretty too. That's where the praise unfortunately stops.

Basically people seem to be raving over nothing but just a middle-of-the-road horror-thriller, but with bits of weird sex added in and several over-the-top shock moments that seemed more unintentionally hilarious than shocking. Basically it's just Mulholland Drive with any being able to care for the characters taken out (We even get the obligatory lesbian sex scene- just minus having a place). In other words, you're getting a typical messed up girl story. I didn't really feel for the Nina character at all. For one, I dunno why she wouldn't just get a red flag when Vincent Cassel's character forced a kiss on her, or when he told her to touch herself. Yet somehow she's smart enough to lash out at her over-controlling mom and tell her "I'm not 12 anymore" and dump the plush toys down the garbage disposal.

Truth be told, Black Swan is honestly just an incoherent mess. There are moments of brilliance, which all go to naught when something that reduces you to laughter (at an inappropriate moment too) comes. Yeah as you guessed, I laughed at several moments that weren't meant to be funny. Like when Nina masturbates and finds her mom in the room. Or Winona Ryder going all joker on herself. The film looks nice, has good special effects and performances, but you can dress up a pig in fancy clothing and it's still a pig.

Oh, but what do I know. Like most Oscar bait nowadays, this film will go to win awards and enjoy a bit of hype for a while. And then, of course, like any other movie, people are going to regret the hype and it will end up on most people's overrated lists.

Cue people telling me "I don't get it".
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2011
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2012
I'm a big Natalie Portman fan and she plays this part extremely well. It wasn't what I expected but I'm glad I got it. It took a while to figure it out but then I wanted to watch it again and see what I missed.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2011
I didn't enjoy watching Black Swan. It would not have taken much persuading me to get up and walk out. As we left the cinema, other than to remark upon its startling intensity, my initial reactions to it were mostly negative. I enjoyed it much more in the twenty four hours afterwards, unpeeling its cuticles and scratching at its feathered back. That suggests the jarring sensation is a superficial one.

It was never going to be straightforward with Darren Aronofsky at the helm. Black Swan starts out in a fairly conventional direction - the sheltered heroine battling to escape her castle - but veers off in quite another. So, we watch the unfolding petals of a cosseted young bud, kept out of the light past her date of maturity by well-intending but all the same mendacious forces. We see this charted against the depredations of her environment - there are big, bad wolves everywhere you look - and the technical and spiritual challenges she must overcome to earn her place as the prima ballerina, an award we infer is long past its due date. We see Nina battle her own demons and those of her protectors: there is self-flagellation in her insistence on technical perfection, mirrored in Nina's chastity - self imposed, we suspect - but it is all reinforced by a text-book neurotic, over-protective, historically harmed mother. In a way her mother's behaviour is a sort of vicarious self-flagellation too: Nina is simply the unfortunate vehicle for working out her mother's own self torment.

So much, so conventional: as the drama shifts onto Monsieur Leroy, the darkly charged womaniser of a ballet director. He is everything Nina is not: he represents everything she is afraid of: passion: licentiousness. We first meet him pawing his stable of swans, like a Siamese King inspecting his harem. He's a tease, too: those he has *not* patted can report to his chamber at sundown. There is an uneasy equilibrium, though, in the same way there is between lions and gazelles in the Serengeti: this is an ecosystem, and for it to function it must be so.

And then, breaking up the order and hierarchy is a new dancer, flown in to neurotic New York from free-loving West Coast San Francisco to deputise for an injured dancer. In case that wasn't enough of a clue, we're told in an off-stage exchange between Leroy and Nina, she is a free spirit: she may not have all nina's the technical chops, but she *feels it*. She can, Leroy remarks teasingly, let herself go.

He tells Nina more than once she is his perfect white swan. But he has trouble seeing the dark alter ego she must inhabit to play the Black Swan.

There you have it: a white swan, a black one (though of course it doesn't play out as straightforwardly as that), a wicked witch, Bluebeard. Enough dramatic impetus to last you a week. And boy does Aronofsky deliver it, too: you get that impetus focussed and concentrated into a two hour spell, which is about as intense an experience as you could ask for. This is Scotty in the engine room material: any more, captain, and she'll blow.

Aronofsky adds another level of doubt by interposing a layer of fantasy here too. From the opening scene - a dream - we know Nina has an active subconscious, and we're not clear in early exchanges what is "real" and what is not. This extrapolates unhappily, however: as the flood waters of Nina's neuroticism rise, a fertile imagination gives way to active hallucination, which eventually canters onwards into a diagnosable psychotic episode. Intensity to the max, but it undermines the dramatic development. Was that her mother sleeping in a chair in her room while she fantasised? Was she just fantasising? Or was she fantasising about fantasising?

Now once or twice that sort of ambiguity would be ok: adding a little uncertainty to further pique the raging intensity (not, though, like the picture needed it). But Aronofsky over-uses the trick: the default assumption becomes is hallucination. This alleviates, rather than builds, tension.

There is a profound undercurrent of ickiness: the self flagellation, per his previous picture, The Wrestler, becomes self-harming. But it feels unnecessary: guignol for the sake of it. The purely ballet-oriented gruelitudes (particularly the punishment a ballerina administers to her feet) are enough make this point without the (usually illusory) woundings. In sensationalising this way Aronofsky cheapens his art: he cuts it with hyperbole. Likewise with some of the eroticisms: no red-blooded fellow will completely object to being asked to watch Natalie Portman's onanstic activities (and more!), but Aronofsky goes beyond what is strictly necessary for his statement, even if he doesn't ever quite let Nina get to hers (all the more tension!): It is a little artistically voyeuristic.

Because of all his mucking about in mental hyperspace, where we don't know what's real and what's not, Aronofsky's climax misses its beat profoundly. It's a silly, trite, implausible ending - the credits fade up and it feels like a ten-ton weight has been dropped on the picture, Monty Python style.

Is it a good film? Yes. It's a very good film, though I think I'd take a certain amount of evasive action to avoid watching it again. Is it great one? That I'm not so sure about.

Olly Buxton
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2014
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2013
If Neve Campbell's The Company reveals the emotional cost of a lucratic ballet career amidst images of the joy and beauty of dance, then Natalie Portman's Black Swan reveals the psychological toll of daily dedication to grotesque physicality, amidst images of madness, social isolation, body distortion, scratched skin, nail splitting, and bone crunching.

A combination of Portman's dramatic performance, whirlwind cinematography, and choreography force the viewer into the nightmarish self-destruction of a prima ballerina through the guidance of a smothering stage mother, a demanding dance instructor, and a sly doppelganger.

The cinema verite style bonds together within the theme of Swan Lake, one of the world's most recognizable ballets. Several movements from the ballet tease the viewer with increasing dread of the ultimate price of perfection achieved, life itself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2015
I don’t get the aesthetic allure of ballet. What I can appreciate on a sexual level is watching dainty girls parade around in tights. If Black Swan is a realistic representative of the ballet world, I’m not alone in my perversion. Lewd sex is a major theme here. It’s a driving force for nearly every major character. Even the relationship between mother and daughter had me anticipating a sex scene between the two.

The problem is that the story is too ambiguous. The diegetic reason for that is because Nina, the dancer it revolves around, tends to hallucinate. She apparently has a major mental disorder, perhaps brought on by said “Mommy”, whom she still lives with and clings to at the age of twenty-something. Black Swan, a movie that wasn’t engaging in the first place, soon loses its way in a barrage of horror-flick clichés.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2013
Psychologically thrilling. Natalie Portman is a fantastic actor and was great in this role. I was hooked from the beginning.
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