Saturday, January 29, 2011

Film Review: The Black Swan

I feel I am sufficiently recovered enough to write a review of Black Swan. Let me begin with ...


I've tried to keep the spoilers to a bare minimum, but just in case you want to know absolutely nothing, be warned...

*Potential Spoiler Alert*

Ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) has her dreams come true when the director of the New York City  Ballet Company, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) casts her as the lead in their production of Swan Lake. Her only obstacle is herself, as the lead role requires portraying not only the innocent, virginal White Swan - a role Nina excells at - but also her alter ego, the sensual and seductive Black Swan - it is here that Nina falters, as her constant strive for utter perfection prevents her from "loosing herself" to the darkness of the Black Swan.

Nina trains and practices ferociously, but struggles to convey what Leroy is looking for in the Black Swan, and finds herself becoming increasingly paranoid that another ballerina, Lily (Mila Kunis) is trying to steal the role from her. Thus begins Nina's descent into madness.

If you're expecting a pretty film that will have you dancing out of the cinema wishing your mother dragged you to ballet lessons as a child, then this is not for you. Nina's struggles with perfection lead her down the path of paranoia and self doubt, and she begins to experience powerful hallucinations as the lines between reality and her warped imagination quickly blur. She self harms without realising, and on several occasions imagines her injuries to be far more serious than they actually are - cue a particularly squeamish scene involving torn skin around her fingernails. I won't spoil anything, but be warned; if you are not a fan of gore, there are a few occassions that you may want to hide behind your bucket of popcorn. Similarly, if you're in any way prudish, the sexual aspects might startle you - I'm thinking in particular about the lesbian scene between Nina and Lily, which was not shied away from.

Nina's twisted relationship with her overbearing mother is also a serious presence, and has certainly shaped the way Nina behaves. Barbara Hershey plays a failed ballerina, living her lost dreams through Nina. Her domineering presence is done very subtly; she seems to want only the best for Nina - wouldn't any mother? But we see her do little ordinary things - such as dressing Nina, winding up her music box, feeding her, and bathing her - that have certainly left Nina in a child like state. In fact, Nina's bedroom is a six year old's delight, filled with all thinks pink and flowery, and adorned with endless amounts of teddy bears. Her mother's suffocation lead Nina to eventually rebel, and in a particularly violent scene, she breaks away from her mother.

The closing scenes are some of the best, as Nina finally loses herself to the Black Swan by doing something very dark, and the depth of her hallucinations and madness is revealed. Its not a happy ending - there is no particular lesson to be learned, but it is almost inevitable.

Black Swan will certainly stay with you long after you've left the cinema. The visual effects are considered superb, but I found the sounds effects to be the most disturbing aspect. It has picked up a good deal of criticism from ballet companies, angered by the negative portrayal of something so beautiful, but the main concentration of the film is about Nina and her madness; she simply happens to be a ballerina. It could be about any other competitive sport or activity. I liked the fact that it was about ballet; events and situations so sad and desperate were juxtaposed nicely by fluttering, floating ballerinas.

I highly recommend seeing Black Swan, and I really hope Natalie Portman wins her Oscar - thoroughly deserved. However, I'm never putting my kids in ballet classes ...


  1. Great Review, such an amazing film. Just thinking of some of the scene is making me squimish! I like that they didn't shy away from the more graphic elements of the film though x

  2. Thanks!! I know, it wouldn't have been as good if they'd sugar coated certain things. Brilliant film, blew me away!

  3. Good review, I have not seen the movie but I really feel like watching it now...with a bunch of people around me, however. :)


  4. great review :) agree with you about the being prudish thing - not the movie for you and your mammy to go to together! xx

  5. Oh god, definitely not! One of my friends was contemplating going with her sixty two year old auntie... I politely advised her against it ;-)

  6. great review, I just saw it last night and altough it was good and scary and fascinating and the music was brilliant, I was kind of disappointed by the end... I don't mean the last performance but just the way it ended-if you didn't watch the movie but knew what it's about you would kind of expect it to end like that, no? and throughout the film I was thinking great, it's twisted and unpredictable and then....
    I defo liked it, a lot, not sure if I'd be running back to see it. Still, will buy the dvd when it's out ;)

  7. Twas, excellent, so it was. The bits I saw from in between my fingers, that is!

  8. I wasn't overly fond of the ending either, actually; it ending was a bit sudden, I thought... it was fitting and it did work, but I'm one of those people that likes everything to be nicely wrapped up and explained so it did annoy me a bit!

    Sarah - it was from behind the popcorn for me ;-)