Thursday, July 28, 2011

Black Swan

Directed by Darren Aronofsky.
2010. Rated R, 108 minutes.
Natalie Portman
Mila Kunis
Vincent Cassel
Barbara Hershey
Winona Ryder
Benjamin Millepied
Ksenia Solo
Kristina Anapau

The dance company is going to open its new season with a fresh version of Swan Lake. Out of what looks to be a couple dozen young ladies who dance there, only a handful are even deemed worthy enough to audition for the lead role of “Swan Queen.” Nina (Portman) is one of the lucky few. For those unfamiliar, “Swan Queen” is a dual role. One has to ply both the pure and good “White Swan” and the evil “Black Swan.” Dancing the “White Swan” is no problem for Nina. Her innocence shines through her technical proficiency as a dancer. Dancing the “Black Swan” is another issue, entirely. She seems to lack the passion and the will to let herself go needed to be a convincing villain. She’s just too nice. Her director Thomas Leroy sees potential in Nina and awards her the role. From then on, he starts trying to get her to tap into her wild side and bring out the beast he wants to see onstage. Combine this with the over-protective mother she lives with (Hershey), the company’s new dancer Lily (Kunis) who keeps shoving herself into Nina’s life and the ungodly amount of pressure Nina puts on herself and she appears to be coming apart at the seams. Ironically, all of this insanity may just be helping her transform into precisely what she needs to be to pull off her new role. She’s not sure whether this transformation is literal, or not. Frankly, neither are we.

Our deciphering of this information, or more accurately, not being able to decipher it is key to the movie’s success. We’re given enough to see things more than one way. Yet, in the back of our minds one of those ways doesn’t make any sense. To this end, we’re told repeatedly how the plot to Swan Lake plays out. Could Nina actually be experiencing that plot in her own life? Could we really be watching Swan Lake and not even know it?

Keeping us off guard requires a strong lead. Natalie Portman is this and more. It’s truly a phenomenal performance. Her descent into madness, or her ascent into artistry if you prefer, is superbly captured. In a thankless role, Barbara Hershey is just as good. She hits the right notes at the right time. Even Mila Kunis proves to be more than just a pretty face, turning in excellent work. Ever the jaded puppeteer, Darren Aronofsky pulls it all together. He again proves adept at making real life situations as horrific as possible.

Does art imitate life? Or, is it the other way around? That’s the question hovering just above the surface of Black Swan. Below it, the question is: what happens to us when we push ourselves beyond our breaking point? There are no easy answers to either and along the way you might come up with more questions. Because of this, our journey is always fascinating despite it also being occasionally confusing. The true beauty of this film is that even though we get a definitive ending in the physical sense, we still have to deal with those questions.


  1. Great review! Haven't seen much Aronofsky except this and Requiem For A Dream (I didn't quite know what I was getting myself into on that one lol) but I loved this film and Natalie Portman blew me away!

  2. I love both and Portman is tremendous. I think it's her best work. If you want to give Aronofsky another shot check out The Wrestler.