Film Review: Black Swan (2010)

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Black Swan follows Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a ballet dancer who strives for perfection. She is part of a ballet company overseen by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). He is looking for a leading lady in his newest production, a contemporary take on the classic ‘Swan Lake’. The leading lady must be able to portrait both the white swan; elegant and graceful and the dark swan; alluring and seductive. Throughout the events we follow a transformation of character in an effort to try possess all these qualities.

This is a superbly choreographed film, with Portman visibly having spent months learning the art. The way in which the kinetic motions of dance are filmed is brilliant, with subtle camera trickery mirroring movement as we follow every turn.

The score itself is a variation on the original ‘Swan Lake’ music, adapted by Clint Mansell. It falls & rises with the changing moods of a scene, adding energetic swells, building & destroying characters. As with most Darren Aronofsky films there is a strong focus on sound design. It is sometimes glaringly obvious to display a momentary loss of sanity and at other times adds a menacing undercurrent which helps to immerse oneself in this downward spiral in to madness.

Vincent Cassel is great as the production director Thomas Leroy, a gallivanter who is deeply respected & admired. He knows what he wants & how to physically draw out the best performance. As we begin with one rising star, we also see the end of another. The tragic Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder), who is seen as an idol to Nina Sayers. This casting as the fading star is a somewhat eerie turn in a case of life imitating art. We realise that Portman’s character is seemingly a newer model with the same attributes.

Portman gives an inspired performance as Nina Sayers and also the best of her career. She is able to very convincing pull of a struggling character dichotomy, going through a range of emotions from child like naivety to a monstrous disposition, engulfing the performance of her rival Lily, played by Mila Kunis. An honourable mention must go to Barbara Hershey as Erica Sayers, Nina Sayer’s misguided mother. Their relationship, whilst beginning in an almost fairytale like manner soon starts to develop cracks as we become more accustomed to Nina’s life & reveal a twisted reality of a failed former ballet dancer.

Black Swan walks a tight rope between fantasy & reality. It is about striving for perfections and what it takes to destructively rebuild oneself in to this image. It is an excellent film, that strikes a resonant chord with the viewer in it’s descent in to the human psyche & itself is almost close to perfection.


Thriller  | USA , 2010 | 15 | May 16, 2011 (UK & Ireland) | 20th Century Studios | Dir: Darren Aronofsky |
Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis , Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder