Black Swan – Film Review

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder

Starring Golden Globe winner Natalie Portman (The Other Boleyn Girl), for best actress, along with Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises) and Mila Kunis (The Book of Eli) Black Swan follows the production of Tchaikovsky’s 1875 ballet; Swan Lake, in the hands of a prestigious ballet company in New York City. Out to cast the perfect ballerina to play both the innocent White Swan and sensual Black Swan in a modern take of a ballet classic, the rivalry between two key ballet dancers who both feel they have what it takes to step into the shoes of the Prima Ballerina, is rife. Reluctant to cast Nina Sayers (Portman) in the leading role, ballet director Thomas Leroy (Cassel) informs her she lacks the passion of the sensual Black Swan, and is not suitable for the role. Taking matters into her own hands Nina soon changes Leroy’s decision, casting her as both Swans shortly after.

As rehearses for the Black Swan commence, Nina soon starts to struggle with a number of psychiatric symptoms, which range from self-harm to persistent scratching, as well as obsessive compulsive behaviour, eating disorders and visual hallucinations. As rehearsals deepen, and Nina gets into character more and more every day, the task of becoming the Black Swan starts to take over Nina’s life not only on the stage. When her hallucinations and reality start to combine, the task of inter-picking the norm with the virtual becomes harder, jeopardising her chances of performing in the production. Determined not to give up, Nina’s dedication to play the Black Swan continues, taking over her body at a rate faster than ever before, leading to consequences which are far from the norm, but can never be questioned to be virtual either.

Opening to a standing ovation at the 67th Venice International Film Festival in September 2010, and receiving favourable reviews from critics worldwide, Black Swan offers 108 minutes of wonderfully creepy, dark and gleaming scenes which are at times theatrically maddening, yet surprising and unique in every detail. Portman’s award-winning performance of Nina has not gone unnoticed, and portrays the dangers of a young woman trying to make it in society, may it be alone, or with the help of temptations that not always lead to the place intentions were at.

Although critics are falling over themselves with praise, Aronofsky’s Black Swan has seen a certain amount of controversy in the States from people in the ballet world to the film’s depiction of life in a ballet company. Speaking about her role Portman has defended the film, arguing Back Swan has received a number of great responses from ballet dancers, yet her role portrays one particular dancer’s story in one particular fictional company. Adding further the main purpose of this film, and any film is fiction, and is not trying to be one real person’s story. There’s some things that people might not want to believe is true but a lot of it is deeply, darkly true.

As complex and controversial Black Swan may be, the audacity of mixing symptoms of mental illness, hallucinations, and ballet into one picture, whether played out to fiction or reality, reflects the state of mind at when performing. Performance gives talent the chance to be whoever they want, to bring alive a different part of their personality, and to indulge within a make-believe story even if only for a few seconds. Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a piece of art and looks set to fair nicely at this year’s 83rd Academy Awards which has already scored four nominations at this year’s Golden Globes.


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