Movie Review: “Black Swan”

Written by Josh Litman February 11, 2011

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen. And make no mistake: it is a horror movie.

Nina (Natalie Portman in a career-defining, Oscar-worthy performance) has her dreams come true when granted the role of Swan Queen in Director Thomas’ (Vincent Cassel) new production of Swan Lake. However, this particular production requires her to play two dichotomous roles: that of the sweet and noble White Swan, as well as the far less innocent Black Swan. Thomas tells Nina that she is a perfect White Swan, but has a ways to go before personifying the devious Black Swan. On top of the pressure, Nina’s inherent, yearning desire to be “perfect” just might drive her mad.

This film is claustrophobic as hell. The camera always seems to be right up in someone’s face, rarely giving the audience time to breathe. And this is just what it aims to do.

Much of the “why” in the film is answered implicitly, and even then those answers cannot necessarily be trusted. The film dives so far into the core of madness that it gets to a point where the viewer hardly knows anymore what to trust onscreen. As both Nina and the film lose their grip on reality, one might think viewers would lose their engrossment in the film. On the contrary, the film merely pulls you in deeper and deeper, mesmerizing in its willingness to go to the most uncomfortable places.

And uncomfortable those places truly are. The images in this film will not leave your mind, long after you’ve left the theatre. Some of these images are hauntingly beautiful; others are just plain haunting. As Nina journeys to darker and more unsettling places, she unleashes varying aspects of herself, some unbelievably sexual. Sitting in the theatre audience observing Nina vigorously touch herself rendered me a guilty voyeur indeed. abuse contacts . That, and the hot girl-on-girl action between Nina and rival dancer, Lily (effectively played by Mila Kunis).

It first seems as though the licentious Thomas is the principal force pushing Nina toward these dark places, but it soon becomes apparent that Nina is being torn apart from all sides. Her controlling mother (terrifyingly portrayed by Barbara Hershey) has certainly left Nina buried deep in emotional scars, while the stressful and competitive nature of dancing has taken its toll on her as well. But ultimately, Nina’s obsession is her own worst enemy.

In the story of Swan Lake, the White Swan ultimately kills herself when the Black Swan gets in her way. In Nina’s case, the only one getting in her way is herself, and it is fitting that she plays both roles in the production.

The film takes risk after risk, some of which might not settle well with certain crowds. Indeed, there were a couple of scenes that did not sit well with me; the insanity began to grate a little too, at times.

Nonetheless, Black Swan is a great film that has yet to leave my mind. It is terrifying and beautiful, a dark and supremely twisted cautionary tale. It is insane. Who would have ever thought a film about ballet could be so frightening?

My rating: 9/10

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About Josh Litman

Josh Litman

Director/producer/writer/actor/editor/cinematographer/musician/neuroscientist… Josh prides himself on being simultaneously awesome and modest. In addition to We Eat Films, Josh also produces his own work (films, writing) under the banner of Action Potential Productions and has his own website, too, where his handiwork can be viewed: -- or (if you prefer).

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