Review: Black Swan

Review: Black Swan

As a longtime fan of director Darren Aronofsky’s work, I was really looking forward to Black Swan. To this day I’m a firm believer that high school classes should be shown Requiem for a Dream when they have to sit through “drug awareness week” because that film is a real eye opener. Like all of Aronofsky’s films, Black Swan is beautifully done. It’s filled with great acting, gorgeous music, and it gives audiences a harsh look at the world of ballet.

The story of Black Swan revolves around Nina Sayers, played by the exquisite Natalie Portman, and her quest to become her company’s lead ballerina. When it is announced that her ballet company will be performing Swan Lake, a tragic story about a Princess who is turned into a swan, as their season opener, Nina pushes herself to land the main role of Swan Queen. To play the Swan Queen perfectly, Nina must not only embody the White Swan, a role she already has in the bag, but the Black Swan as well, and that requires her to not be as frigid and closed-off as she normally is. Nina, already under a lot of pressure and scrutiny from her mother Erica, a failed dancer who is perfectly acted by Barbara Hershey, slowly starts to crack and crumble as the film progresses.

Nina begins to realize that she has some tough competition when a new dancer, Lily, joins their ballet company and is a natural at being the Black Swan. Lily is everything Nina isn’t: she’s relaxed, uninhibited, and isn’t afraid to do some questionable things to get what she wants. Nina does have the upper hand in terms of technique, however she is unable to see that and, instead, fixates on how Lily can get what she wants with her sexuality. When Nina does land the role of Swan Queen, she begins to get incredibly paranoid of Lily when it’s announced she’ll be her understudy. It’s clear that Nina’s mental state is frail and she has random hallucinations, some more disturbing than others. It never is made clear whether or not the hallucinations are due to her malnutrition, the constant pressure she puts on herself, or her borderline insane mother, but it was sad to see someone so beautiful spiral downwards.

Portman and her co-star, Mila Kunis, who plays Lily, practically starved themselves for their roles, training for over 6 months, and dropping to under 100 lbs. When you see them, they look really emaciated, and sadly, it’s common for real ballerinas to develop eating disorders. I honestly don’t think I saw a scene in the movie where I saw Nina eat a thing, except for one time where she had a bit of frosting from a cake, and even then she looked like she wanted to die from it. Instead, we saw her frequent bathrooms so she could purge herself.

While some of the visual content throughout the movie might be a bit much for some, it’s classic Aronofsky. In every single one of his films we see someone with body issues, and Black Swan is no different. Nina constantly scratches at a section of her back on her right scapula, causing a scaly rash to form, and there are many instances where she imagines that the cuticles around her fingernails are bleeding. There is one scene in particular where she is washing the blood away and, while I won’t go into detail, it made me cringe slightly. There are other moments where the changes are subtle, like when eyes move on a painting or when the tattoo on Kunis’s back moves slightly.

The supporting cast did a great job as well. There wasn’t one person who didn’t deliver, or who gave a performance that was subpar. Winona Ryder did an amazing job as Beth, the star of the troupe who is being phased out due to old age, and Vincent Cassel, whom you’ll remember as Toulour in Ocean’s Twelve, was a perfect choice to play Thomas Leroy. Beth and Thomas are romantically involved, so when Beth is forced to retire against her will, it also brings about the end of their relationship. Cassel does a wonderful job of being the strict and demanding director, but he also has a suave, sensual side about him.

I’m sure all of you have heard about the girl-on-girl scene between Kunis and Portman, but don’t expect to see any nudity because there is none. That particular scene lasted roughly 1:22 and was just okay, for me at least. It was mainly due to the fact that the scene was so over-hyped and I was expecting something that would really blow me away. Instead, I was a bit surprised that Portman, normally one who does things squeaky-clean, took on a role where she performs a little “self service” a couple of times, stopping before she climaxes.

Despite the tragic end, Black Swan was a really brilliant film. For those of you who are fans of Aronofsky, everything will feel so familiar and that’s a good thing. For those of you who haven’t seen any of his films, I’d definitely suggest you go while it’s still in theaters and then check out his previous offerings, starting with, my personal favorite, The Fountain.


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