December 22, 2010

Movie Review: Black Swan (2010)

blackswan1_largeThere are some movies that I walk out of and can write hundreds upon hundreds of words on. This is a good thing. It does not matter if the movie is good or bad, just that it struck a chord that allowed my words to spill out. Then there are the movies that are a complete, absolute struggle to write about. Again, the movie could be good or bad, but for one reason or another the words fail to come. Recently, How Do You Know was one of those movies. It was a bad movie and I could scarcely get a word out about it. Now I have Black Swan, coincidentally the first movie I saw after How Do You Know, and once again I am finding myself at a complete loss for words.

The difference this time is that it is not because Black Swan is a bad movie. Quite the opposite. Black Swan is an incredible film, a sublime beauty that hides a frightening core. It is a movie that will have you on the edge of your seat, shake you to the core, and leaving you wanting. Darren Aronofsky has crafted a mesmerizing tale of modern horror that does not rely on blood and guts. It is a daring film really gets under the skin and unsettles the viewer.


Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a ballerina who strives for absolute perfection in her performance. The problem is that in this attempt to achieve perfection she loses a lot of emotion and her ability to get past technique and actually embody true greatness. There are flaws in perfection. This becomes a big issue when she gets the role of the Swan Queen in a new production of Swan Lake. She is challenged and pushed by her director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). He sees her talent but does not believe she can play the Black Swan. In a way he is right, she can't; however, in her pursuit of the skills required she begins to transform into the Black Swan at the cost of her sanity.

Black Swan is a psychological horror that portrays a woman crumbling under the pressure. Pressure she puts on herself and that put onto her by her mother (Barbara Hershey) and from Leroy. Add another layer of pressure in the form of Lilly (Mila Kunis). She was a fresh face to the troupe, an unrefined performer who is less technique and more emotion, the opposite of Nina.

Now that words are starting to find their way, I want to avoid plot detail. Sure, Nina's life mirrors the Swan Queen in many ways, but it is so much more rewarding to discover and experience it as it happens rather than read about it.


The thing to know about Black Swan is that it is not what you think it is just as much as it is what you think it is. The lines of fantasy and reality are blurred to the point of non-existence. Your entry point is the least reliable a narrator as can be. Watching Nina and her interactions with all around her and the way she perceives them.

Darren Aronofsky has put a very fine stamp on this film. It is a tale of immediate intimacy. He puts you right there with her, in her shoes, experiencing everything. He has a fine cast to work with, all of whom turn in fantastic performances.

Something funny did occur to me as I watched it. Just as I recognized it as being a distinctly Aronofsky work, I also got the feeling of Italian cinema. In particular horror movies of the 70's and 80's, Argento style, like Opera. Black Swan felt like it had a similar mind set, only it took a step further, removed giallo elements and gave the plot a stronger focus to go along with the style. Of course, I could just be seeing things.

However you want to look at it Black Swan is a powerful film that will stay with you long after the last frame has flickered into darkness. This is a good, no, this is a great film. This is a movie that has a lot to offer and is sure to reward multiple viewings. Simply put, this is a movie to see, to absorb, to be amazed by.

Highly Recommended.

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