Black Swan

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Black Swan
It’s best to switch off the more sensible side of your mind, along with any idea that you’re going to experience a documentary-style portrait of the world of ballet, before encountering Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’. It’s a film that really only works if you let yourself be swirled up, like its main character, in a storm of hysteria, paranoia and tears: it’s too impulsive and emotional to be picked apart at the level of logic and too ludicrous to exist in a world other than its own. It’s huge fun, but only if you’re willing to swallow its more bonkers excesses.

‘Black Swan’ gives us a harried, weepy Natalie Portman as Nina, a delicate, overly mothered dancer with the New York City Ballet who cracks up ten times over when she lands the dual roles of the White and Black Swans, Odette and Odile, in a production of ‘Swan Lake’. Realism barely gets a look in as Aronofsky and his team go hell-for-leather in reflecting this young woman’s fractured mental state – and the ballet’s own story and themes – in everything from an invasive, swirling photographic style to the monochrome production design of the office and apartment of her mentor and director, Thomas (pronounced the French way and played by Vincent Cassel), a man as stereotypically ‘European’ as Hercule Poirot. A fan of turtlenecks and indoor scarves, he’s the sort of guy who asks his protegées to masturbate, just to explore their devilish sides.

Or does he? It’s rarely clear what’s real or not in ‘Black Swan’. Aronofsky’s approach to psychological drama – to making real the horrors of the mind – makes the likes of Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ or ‘Repulsion’ look very timid. He doesn’t go for a gradual reveal of insanity. Instead, right from the off, we see Nina tearing off impossible amounts of skin from her fingers and hear awful cracks and snaps as she exercises her feet. From there, all Aronofsky can do is throw taste and subtlety to the wind.

The body horror increases: later, we see Nina’s legs bending and snapping, just as she hallucinates while looking at the walls of the flat she shares with her ultra-protective mother, played as a witch by Barbara Hershey. Her other nemeses are a demonic, newly retired dancer (Winona Ryder) and a pretty new colleague (Mila Kunis). Our view of both is entirely distorted by Nina’s breakdown as she struggles to play both swans and defy Thomas’s concerns that she’s too pure to play the more evil role.

The film’s endless pulp elements (erotica, stabbing, drugs, blood, strangling…) are tempered by the beauty of the story’s context – the music, dancing, costumes – and the film’s ballsy momentum. Yet there’s no escaping that this is high-class trash, however enjoyable. Aronofsky has taken a disturbed psychological state – the neuroses of a fragile artist – and flung it into lurid territory. He’s more concerned with expressing Nina’s madness and reflecting it (and, boy, he likes mirrors) in the world about her than in making any sense of her character or the life of a dancer. But he whips up such an orgy of fun in the process that it’s hard not to tear off your clothes and dive in.

By: Dave Calhoun

Posted:

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday February 11 2011
Duration: 103 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Natalie Portman
Mila Kunis
Winona Ryder
Vincent Cassel
Barbara Hershey

Average User Rating

2.7 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:24
  • 4 star:15
  • 3 star:7
  • 2 star:14
  • 1 star:39
LiveReviews|99
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Avatar for Clem
1 of 1 found helpful

I loved this. I saw it on the first day of release with no idea of what it was about, and it was incredible. Really excitig and thrilling to watch.

Avatar for marfa
1 of 1 found helpful

It's so sad - she's stuck in this awful situation battling a terrible mother and a terrible 'father figure'. One is trying to keep her a child, the other is trying to make her grow up in a horribly abusive way. No wonder she is terrified of sex. Whereas Mila Kunis represents someone developing normally - she is happy and cops off with a peer in the dance company - the male lead of Swan Lake. I thought this was brilliant and I felt genuinely sorry for Natlie Portman character. Only thing I couldn't believe is no-one would notice she was going into full-blown psychosis, or care that she was obviously vulnerable in more straightforward ways. Is ballet really that bad?

Avatar for Alexandra Robedeaux
1 of 1 found helpful

There was nothing in this film that was in any way believable. As a ballet dancer myself, this passionless, vapid girl would have never even made it out of the thrird row of the corps. Ballerina?- come on. This woman would be laughed out of a job at Target. Dancers have to have immense feeling, passion and artistry to even continue as dancers. And to believe that any woman over 22 is that unfamilar with her body is ludicrous, it doesn't exist, Mr. Aronofsky. Unless they're dead!!! And also, to be in dance, yuo need passion and feeling even to be attracted to ballet. What universe do you live in - do you inhabit some planet where no one feels? No one grows? What kind of empty women inhabit your universe??

Avatar for arthousefan
1 of 1 found helpful

I thought this is an excellent film, with multilayers that one can read whatever way that is most relevant to oneself. I am a little surprised that this is not an European film, as I would not be surprised if it were. To make any progress one must overcome one's own demon; so it is totally believable that so much shown was actually in Nina's mind. The film is fun and appeal to a range of people I am sure, but I hardly watch mainstream films, so I am pleasantly surprised.

Avatar for sandra
1 of 1 found helpful

fantastic performance from portman, her character she played with all feeling, i could feel what she was going through, cant understand why some comments here didnt understand it, mental pressure or breakdowns can create illusions and bad thoughts, which portman carried off amazingly well,the webbed feet were in her mind,the swan taking over her body,the self harming because of hate for herself and her mother, how anyone couldnt see this , all i can say you werent watching properly, best film iv seen in a long time.

Avatar for j
1 of 1 found helpful

I found this a fascinating, gripping film. I don't know much about ballet, other than an obvious analogy (the need for Portman's character to express her darker side -repressed sexuality, anger, envy, etc through the black swan) it was merely a visual feast, and not the point of the story. I felt very, very sorry for the character, her fragility and helplessness, and when she metaphorically slayed her competitor/rival it really felt like she had confronted her selfish side, and it was very powerful to see her dance the black swan, eyes glittering, in charge of the stage and herself. It was a fascinating glimpse into paranoia and represssion. Ugliness and beauty were a constant juxtaposition; the beauty of ballerina, the deformity of the feet. It's a very hard, short and unforgiving life for a ballerina. i was quite taken aback by the brutality of it. An excellent film. (Sorry for posting twice- i forgot to give it a rating the first time round!)

Avatar for Iron-Mike
1 of 1 found helpful

The black swan besides being unpredictable and enthralling it is one of the best choreographed films ive seen in ages if you let your mind remain open and absorb the character you almost can feel her confusion,terror and excitement throughout the entire film a definate must see for people who appreciate art,films and and deep thinking stories. Absolutely excellent. 5 stars.

Avatar for Neil
1 of 1 found helpful

Simply awesome. Portman's performance is staggering - she is in every scene and truely deserves awards.

Avatar for Katy
1 of 1 found helpful

I personally thought the film was excellent. To appreciate the story line, audience involvement and commitment was needed, but apart from this I thought it was brilliant. The cinematography was genius and the main actors gave outstanding performances. Although the film may have been a tad exagerrated at times, it provide a rich in detail experience of the pressure and paranioa felt in a dancers mind and as a dancer found this aspect of the film very true to life.

Avatar for Anaelle
Tastemaker

Despite the good reviews, I’m sadly not very impressed.


I feel this movie uses a few too many clichés to make its plot go forth. Portman plays a rather reserved woman. Her dance style obviously reflects her personality – she has great technique but lacks emotions. She is the White Swan. Her frigidity is explained by the fact she lives with an overprotective mum. Opposite is Kunis, who portrays the Black Swan. As a dancer she lacks technique, but has great sensuality. As a person, she’s outgoing, free and uses her sexuality freely. This duo of contrasting characters is more than banal; it is plain stereotypical.


And because of this, I feel the storyline couldn’t but be utterly predictable. Jumping from one cliché to the other, this film leads to an unsurprising and anticlimactic ending, leaving the audience (me) truly bored and dissatisfied.

Avatar for Alfredo

THIS FILM HASN'T A STRAIGHT READING BUT IT'S MORE A FREUDIEN DRAMA THAN A REAL THRILLER, MORE ABOUT MADNESS THAN ABOUT CRIME. THE DRAMA DEVELOPS WITH THE RIGHT PACE FROM THE FIRST PART WHERE THE TENSION BUILDS UP. AND THE END IS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. OR BREATHTAKING. TECHNICALLY THE FILM IS PERFECT BUT THE ACTING IS ALSO SUPERB. THIS IS A MOST ORIGINAL MOVIE AND THEREFORE THERE ARE ALWAYS PEOPLE THAT LOATHE THIS KIND OF DARK SURREAL MOVIES

Avatar for vodsell

just a quick reality check...go over to tron legacy...universal three to four stars. now ive seen both films with my human eyes and i dont know but i can tell the difference between a donkey and a horse...only one of those is going to be at the oscars for a reason so just before you one star...really? great film btw

Avatar for Claire

Well, I thought it was brilliant! People who feel the need to write insulting (plus BORING) page long reviews are not only narrow-minded, but clearly have a lot of time to waste.

Avatar for Ian

funkoxen: bang on the money. Hysterical, deranged and quite brilliantly made. Don't go expecting realism or naturalism, but do go for some cinematic grand guignol

Avatar for akhila

I agree with Dave.This was high class trash.Definate case of style over substance.But in my opinion if you don,t take it too seriously and suspend your disbelief it is reasonably entertaining.Maybe it could have benefited from more subtle direction.Not everyone,s cup of tea though.

Avatar for rupertbear

I was expecting a lot from this film - what a disappointment. Psychological drama? Cheap schlock horror, more like. The cardboard cutout characters were laughable - the wicked european ballet master, the controlling mother, the fading star etc, etc. The closest parallel I can think of is watching a forgotten 70s camp Hammer horror on late night TV. I suspect that's where this will find its niche over time, as a cult comedy. Sorry, but that's what I saw. Is there a gender split on this or are opinions generally divided? Certainly not many in the middle, either very pro or very anti.

Avatar for Violetta

An odd little film I want to like it but found myself in the shallow end of emotions. My bf said that the bird was tasty - but I know he fell asleep during that sapphic fantasy.

Avatar for vanezza

like the majority of other reviews here, i couldn't believe how bad this movie was. like someone else says here, save for the very adult themes, this could have been written by a young girl - trite and predictable - with pink bedrooms full of fluffy toys.

Avatar for funkoxen

maybe i identify with nina or something because i come on here and read reviews and feel like im going insane myself. seriously, evry time i see a film i like want to praise and know full well is good i see a universal one star and people pouring scorn upon its very strengths. As a producer or director of film and theatre i guess i am industry but still that gives me no reason to support this film over any other, ive got no stake but i know quality when i see it. I liked the wrestler as well but i felt that Aronovskys style was improved by ditching the plodding naturalism of that film and replacing it with musicality and expresionism that perfectly fits an adaptation of "Swan Lake" its self a fantastical fairy story. im sorry but fairy storys do have one dimensional charecters and are filled with cliche. still one persons cliche is anothers reference and this film while remaining true to the story of swan lake also riffs on dostoyevskys the double, the red shoes, all about eve , carrie etc and in doing so pays homage too and builds on a cinematic heritage as well. The camera work, performances and soundtrack are all excellent and the whole thing whips past at a pace and sucked me in and disturbed me like a japaneese or korean horror film. Its an audatious thing to do with the subject matter which many may expect to be dealtwith in a prettier or more highbrow way. Im saddened that a lot of people seem to have found it funny in a bad way or boring but i for one appreciated and look forward to seeing darren aronovsky continue to progress as an artist of importance. now you can cane me, go on.

Avatar for funkoxen

maybe i identify with nina or something because i come on here and read reviews and feel like im going insane myself. seriously, evry time i see a film i like want to praise and know full well is good i see a universal one star and people pouring scorn upon its very strengths. As a producer or director of film and theatre i guess i am industry but still that gives me no reason to support this film over any other, ive got no stake but i know quality when i see it. I liked the wrestler as well but i felt that Aronovskys style was improved by ditching the plodding naturalism of that film and replacing it with musicality and expresionism that perfectly fits an adaptation of "Swan Lake" its self a fantastical fairy story. im sorry but fairy storys do have one dimensional charecters and are filled with cliche. still one persons cliche is anothers reference and this film while remaining true to the story of swan lake also riffs on dostoyevskys the double, the red shoes, all about eve , carrie etc and in doing so pays homage too and builds on a cinematic heritage as well. The camera work, performances and soundtrack are all excellent and the whole thing whips past at a pace and sucked me in and disturbed me like a japaneese or korean horror film. Its an audatious thing to do with the subject matter which many may expect to be dealtwith in a prettier or more highbrow way. Im saddened that a lot of people seem to have found it funny in a bad way or boring but i for one appreciated and look forward to seeing darren aronovsky continue to progress as an artist of importance. now you can cane me, go on.

Avatar for Nats

What made me howl with laughter was Natalie Portman’s make-up. Five minutes before the opening show, Natalie’s sat in her dressing room virtually make-up less and wearing only a dressing gown. Then comes a knock on her door and a “5 minutes� call. Amazingly, not only does Natalie’s character manage to dress herself and put her ballet pumps on in that time, but most amazingly she applies her own rather spectacular make-up, which even Max Factor himself would struggle with in that time. This film brings a new dimension to the word “fantasy� and new meaning to “b-movie�.

Avatar for jude

If I’d seen this film sooner, I’d have written to the Razzie nominations board and nominated this film for a Golden Raspberry in this year’s awards. Unfortunately, I saw it last night and not earlier, and missed the nominations by a day. This film’s hammy in the way the sets in Crossroads used to move. Take a pillow into which you can bury your face to muffle the sounds of laughter.

Avatar for Violet

i agree, anyone raving about this film in these viewers’ reviews has got to be from the film industry. this is a very strange film, and sometimes predictably and boring. the comments here about graphic lesbian sex, self mutilation, masturbation, groping, swear words and so on are true … have a look at imbd for a list ( www . imdb . com /title /tt0947798 / parentalguide - close up the spaces) not sure i’d recommend this film to anyone. if it wasn’t awards season, and if ‘the academy’ hadn’t increased Oscar nominations from 5 to 10, I don’t think this would have been included – it’s a space filler in the list. See something better.

Avatar for Violet

i agree, anyone raving about this film in these viewers’ reviews has got to be from the film industry. this is a very strange film, and sometimes predictable / boring. the comments here about graphic lesbian sex, self harm, masturbation, groping, regular swear words and so on are true … have a look at imbd.com for a list (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0947798/parentalguide) not sure i’d recommend this film to anyone. if it wasn’t awards season, and if ‘the academy’ hadn’t increased Oscar nominations from 5 to 10, I don’t think this would have been included – i think it’s a space filler in the list, and i think you will too if you make the mistake of seeing it in place of something better.

Avatar for Sam

Jenny's review below is accurate - very accurate ... this film is full of cliches - right from insecure aspiring prima ballerina in her fluffy pink bedroom, through to devious understudy, and the finale. A six year old girl could have written some of this script. At first my friend and I began to quietly chuckle at the cliches, but as they became more and more frequent we were biting the backs of our hands to control outright laughter. Great for the comedy aspect, but one star only if the directors intention was this should be taken seriously as an adult film. Really, every cliche in the book.

Avatar for Yawn

"John", no i couldn't tell what your review was about ... as my name implies, i nearly fell asleep reading it. Certainly, I didn't reach the end of it without thinking there must be more interesting things to do in life. The second one's no better. The film industry regularly trawls this site leaving false reviews and you're doing nothing to provide balance to genuine reviews by attacking those reviewers or their comments. Give up the reviewing if I were you, and get an interesting life.

Avatar for Yawn

"John" below ... you write a really boring review. I hope you're more interesting in life. You also show a narrow mind by criticising others who have valid opinions on an overrated film. I was also bored by this film. 1 star.

Avatar for scrumpyjack

Whoops! Looks like critics have got caught in the GIRL WITH THE DRAGON...trap again! Yeah, it's good but so was SNAKE EYES, RAISING CAIN and IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, all similar type flicks but justly not hailed. SO WHY IS THIS?! Look, ITS GOOD STUFF. the end! 7/10

Avatar for Martin

This was a dreadful film. Completely cliched and really badly acted. I didn't believe in any of the characters and by extension the story. I can imagine that the film grew from a creative meeting where everyone agreed to make a parallel story about Swan Lake and the real life of a ballet dancer. Unfortunately no-one knew anything about ballet, dancers or psychotherapy so it descends into a ridiculous mess. The most enjoyment I have had from it is explaining to others how bad it is and here I am doing it again....

Avatar for Jo Tilley

I want to give this film 5 stars because it was the first film in a fair while where I didn't look at my phone. Certainly the only way to rate films these days with so many nutters out there giving ridiculous opinions. I didn't want to film to end either - the sign of both a good film and very comfortable reclining seats. It would be extremely easy to criticise this movie for many a thing but for a psychological thriller to provide so many laughs much be applauded. I think the director is a bold and special man as he does not fear ruining his "art form" by expressing his absurd/over the top and childish sense of comedy fun. Bravo Aronofsky.

Avatar for Jo Tilley

I want to give this film 5 stars because it was the first film in a fair while where I didn't look at my phone. Certainly the only way to rate films these days with so many nutters out there giving ridiculous opinions. I didn't want to film to end either - the sign of both a good film and very comfortable reclining seats. It would be extremely easy to criticise this movie for many a thing but for a psychological thriller to provide so many laughs much be applauded. I think the director is a bold and special man as he does not fear ruining his "art form" by expressing his absurd/over the top and childish sense of comedy fun. Bravo Aronofsky.

Avatar for John

Went to see this with no pre-conceptions or knowledge of it other than perhaps the over-hyped lesbian scene from the trailer. For me the reviews here demonstrate distinct and puzzling preconceptions about what should and shouldnt have been acceptable in the film. Why should a film necessarily have to be "for anyone other than an adult"? I'm an adult and choose to see films I will appreciate as one. The film may have its "pulp elements" as Dave Calhoun fairly puts it, but at the same time, again as an adult, these did not dominate my experience of it. In two hours there was one tame drug scene, one non-graphic sex scene, two (which is hardly "frequent", Mike..) non-graphic unconcluded masturbation scenes relevant to the story, some blood etc. This is hardly extreme or overly-distracting in modern film-making. People seem indignant that a dramatically engaging visual spectacle with some fairly convincing acting telling an ok story has not been some kind of epiphany in high-cinema, beyond reproach in terms of screenplay, tone and their taste. The slightly more throw-away aspects of the production are countered by the beauty of much of it. It is not prohibited for us to suspend belief for entertainment, be drawn in by breath-taking cinematography and ignore a bit of "pulp" in a film simply because some people feel that elements of it have not been executed to their expectations. Although its only probably worth 4, I give it 5 stars simply to balance out the ridiculously negative scores given by people that know full well there are myriad awful films produced which this is far superior to.

Avatar for John

Went to see this with no pre-conceptions or knowledge of it other than perhaps the over-hyped lesbian scene from the trailer. For me the reviews here demonstrate distinct and puzzling preconceptions about what should and shouldnt have been acceptable in the film. Why should a film necessarily have to be "for anyone other than an adult"? I'm an adult and choose to see films I will appreciate as one. The film may have its "pulp elements" as Dave Calhoun fairly puts it, but at the same time, again as an adult, these did not dominate my experience of it. In two hours there was one tame drug scene, one non-graphic sex scene, two (which is hardly "frequent", Mike..) non-graphic unconcluded masturbation scenes relevant to the story, some blood etc. This is hardly extreme or overly-distracting in modern film-making. People seem indignant that a dramatically engaging visual spectacle with some fairly convincing acting telling an ok story has not been some kind of epiphany in high-cinema, beyond reproach in terms of screenplay, tone and their taste. The slightly more throw-away aspects of the production are countered by the beauty of much of it. It is not prohibited for us to suspend belief for entertainment, be drawn in by breath-taking cinematography and ignore a bit of "pulp" in a film simply because some people feel that elements of it have not been executed to their expectations. Although its only probably worth 4, I give it 5 stars simply to balance out the ridiculously negative scores given by people that know full well there are myriad awful films produced which this is far superior to.

Avatar for jenny

Really awful film. Definitely not one you want to go and see with your teenage children...Frankly astounding that it is up for so many oscar nominations... Every cliche in the book - mad mother, neurotic daughter in baby pink bedroom with rather disturbing looking fluffy toy animals, smashed up mirror, sleazy teacher, deranged ditched former lead dancer, evil understudy....Hammer House of Horror was more professional. Beautiful dancing by Portman - she certainly looks the part, but that's the only positive thing I can say about this car crash of a movie... Disappointing drivel and to be avoided....

Avatar for Andy Richford

Four stars ? Huge Fun ? really this was the worst dross i have seen in decades . . .There is no hole deep enough to bury it in. Oh well - you got it right about Blue Valentine, at least.

Avatar for annefemme

as i said> the worst film i ve seen in a long time, from a director I would have expected so much more.

Avatar for CHAS M

Don't put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington - well certainly not the ballet stage! I found the ballet scenes and the cinematography saved the film from being a cross between 'play misty for me' and 'snow white'. The former because of all the gore and the latter because of the director's obsession with mirror shots.Well acted by the slightly anorexic Natalie Portman but not one to take Granny to see.

Avatar for Nell

This was awful, one of the worst films I've seen. Acting was hammy, erotica seemed just tobe there to serve some schoolboy fantasy , plot predictable and worst of all boring!

Avatar for Jeremy Vevers

This is a strong film and acts out the very well known ballet story with a Reichian (as opposed to Freudian) undercurrent. The film should have a health warning: those dance fans who regularly attend their dance schools with their hair swept back should not go along to this film with their mothers. There is a horror element to this film that will take many by suprise. Prtman's performance (and her mother) is well worth seeing.

Avatar for Mike

Though the story starts reasonably well, I found it boring after a while, and fairly predictable (particularly the outcome of the rash on the shoulder thing). Though I love the music to Swan Lake, it’s endlessly repeated throughout the film (with no other backing music, I think), so it quickly began to grate. That SL’s also on mobile phones, music boxes, etc in the movie, just gets annoying. I thought Winona Ryder a more convincing actress than Natalie Portman. With scenes of drug abuse, booze, frequent masturbation, lesbian themes, groping (male and female), self-harm, predatory males, etc this is not a film for anyone other than an adult. A brave attempt at an artistic thriller, but widely misses the mark. . Tip: Select the cinema at which you see this film very carefully. If it’s got a poor sound system you’ll notice it quickly and wish you’d been more choosy. . Two-to-three stars (tops).

Avatar for Miles

I went in to watch this film not expecting a lot. Disappointed with the wrestler and with an aversion to natalie portman. But i have to say it truly surprised me. The film captured an intensity displayed by Natalie Portman that left you engrossed. Visually it is amazing and i think it is as good if not better than requiem for a dream. Personally i believe Aronofsky and Portman deserve oscars and strongly recommend going to see this.

Avatar for Miles

I went in to watch this film not expecting a lot. Disappointed with the wrestler and with an aversion to natalie portman. But i have to say it truly surprised me. The film captured an intensity displayed by Natalie Portman that left you engrossed. Visually it is amazing and i think it is as good if not better than requiem for a dream. Personally i believe Aronofsky and Portman deserve oscars and strongly recommend going to see this.

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