Black Swan Review (2010)

While not perfect, Darren Arronofsky’s Black Swan is a tale of someone who loses their soul in  a pursuit of supreme vanity in the guise of art or craft.

It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference in reality and  the phantoms that persecute the protaganist of the film played by Natalie Portman (the protagonist, not the film… she’s not playing the film).

Portman is a young ballet dancer named Nina, who is the most polished  of her troupe, but is told by her director that she lacks in emotion and the ability to ‘let go’ to perform with more emotion.

The ballet troupe’s director, Thomas, played by Frenchman Vincent Cassel takes a VERY ‘hands on’ approach, having been the lover of the ballet’s former prima ballerina and now he’s searching for a replacement (professionally and romantically).

The top dancers all vie for the role of the Swan Queen, but Nina’s top competition comes mainly from a new girl named Lily (played by Mila Kunis) who resembles Nina while being much more free spirited. The role Nina covets, consists of performing a dual role/dance; the White Swan and  the Black Swan.

Thomas believes that Nina is only suited for the White Swan. There is also subtle pressure applied to Nina in the form of her mother, whom she still lives with.

There are aspects of the story that are subtle, especially the relationship between mother and daughter, but much of the story is theatrically fantastic spectacle, especially the relationships with her director or with Lily, which are much more overt. Things that are inherent in a film about a dance troupe are present such as the catty competition and the daily training, but this much more than a film about ballet. The central story could take place in just about any setting, even those that aren’t artistic in nature.

There is much that’s symbolic in the film, at times being practically spelled out for the audience. Obviously, black and white in literature have always represented the pure and the impure, order and chaos, good and evil.

Nina wears white and the corrupting influences ranging from her mother, Thomas, the former prima ballerina (Winona Ryder in a small part) who loathes her would be replacement, Nina and other competitors, all wear black.  Arronofsky seems to be fairly direct when he has a character change their wardrobe’s color scheme.

Mirrors often represent opportunities to denote self reflection, as well as epitomize vanity. Here it does both.

The mirrors become almost a character unto themselves. Keep that in mind in the film’s finale.

Arronofsky does create many details to bolster what the film’s building towards. I kept wondering why Arronofsky had the camera trailing Portman’s character so closely, to where her head took up much of the frame. As with the mirrors, Portman’s hairstyle takes on significance.

Much of what occurs in the film is figurative. I think one of the first scenes introducing Nina gives an indication of what will follow. Nina appears to be speaking with someone who’s not there. It’s obvious what the story is aiming for, but it’s interesting at how it gets there.

There was much hype focused on the sexual content involving Portman and Kunis. A lot of it is purely of the ‘titilating’ variety. I’m not complaining, but it is worth seeing for more than just that reason.

It’s a pretty good film. Not Arranofsky’s best film (far from it), but it’s still more interesting than most of the other film’s out there.

It’s visually entertaining, surreal and full of dark imagery. There also a few creepy moments that have a bit of shock value.

There’s a steady descent and the shocks are foreshadowed by smaller moments involving fingers, toenails and loose skin, then moving on to what looked like plucked chicken skin.

But, being forced to watch Natalie Portman (among others) in any film isn’t exactly what I would call torture.

And speaking of the lovely and very talented Portman, I must say she was perfect in this role. Although she is a bit  more short-limbed than the way I would picture a typical ballerina, but after 10 months of dance training she was very believable.

There were several instances when I thought they were using a body double until the camera panned up and confirmed that it was Portman. Of course, nowadays, there could have been some digital manipulation going on.

Nina experiences a wide range of emotions in the story and Portman does a fine job of portraying that. She also was very good with the subtle changes that the character experiences throughout. I do think like her character, though, she looks like she’s trying to overcompensate for her vanilla nature in the role of the Black Swan. Ironic?

Anyway, he did a good job, as did Kunis. the role that might not get as much recognition is that of Nina’s mother. Barbara Hershey plays her with enough nuance that initially, the viewer won’t get a hint of  exactly what kind of  influence she has on her daughter.

It’s apparent early on that she’s one of those parents that failed in their dream and are now living through their offspring possibly detrimental to them both. Hershey could have been a lot more over the top but remained low key that benefitted the story.

As I said Black Swan is a pretty good film. It won’t make my top five of the year, but  is still a film worth seeing. The beautiful women that are in it and Aranoffsky’s usual unorthodox screenplay and direction , make it worthwhile even if you care nothing for ballet.

If you’re a fan of any of the main players or the director, you’ll probably be happy with it. On the other hand if you don’t like anything too ‘artsy’, this might cause some sort of hemorrhage. Arranofsky’s not for everyone.

All of his films from Pi to this one aren’t really aimed at the mainstream, but they have managed to find an audience (like The Wrestler). His movies aren’t prepackaged for consumption and I kind of like that. 4 of 5 (whatevers)


One Response to “Black Swan Review (2010)”

  1. […] Black Swan (Yes, a ballet movie. It’s surreal as Aranofsky often is. Not his best, but still pretty […]

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