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


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
NaN people listening
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.

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?

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??

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.

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.

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!)

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.

1 of 1 found helpful

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

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.


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.


to put it in perspective, my wife is the one who likes emotional girl movies, and she wanted her money back, terrible.


If you like a film that endevours to make eroticism and horror acceptable then you will love this film. I felt I wasted my money but thank heaven we are all different.


I went to see this movie by mistake hoping for ballet, but it was only a pretence for the director to make a horror movie and I was disappointed. I actually hated every minute of it because they managed ton spoil even the dance scenes.


What a load of dribble. One of the worst films ve seen in a long time. Shame on the Baftas and Oscars for including this weak, boring film so badly acted and directed.


I think I would have enjoyed the film if it weren't for the nauseating camera work. I spent 80% of the time in the auditorium with my eyes closed trying not to be sick! Completely ruined it for me I'm afraid. Will knock it back from 5 to 2 stars for this reason alone.


Having been a fan of Natalie Portman's work for years, I was shocked to find her almost unwatchable. It's not a bad film, but equally it's not a good film. It's faintly silly, overblown and as overwrought as the main characters. Vincent Cassel is about the pick of the cast, Mila Kunis is horribly unconvincing, and whilst an emaciated Portman does look suitably delicate and highly strung, it just seems such a waste of great talent.


I did not know what to expect . Basic story was good, but in my view and my friends far too much exaggerated,too explicit in certain scenes, unnecessary tricks of ballerina`s mind state far too strong spoilt the good idea of this film.I did not liked how camera was catching walking of the actress uneven, jerky etc. Few jumping scary scenes. Overall good acting.

Hugh Janus

I dont understand the negative comments about this film.. I found it and excellent portrayal of ballet in its finest form, it was very interesting to see how turpins were harvested at the turn of the century. This skill has long been lost to modern farming methods. If we are not careful cucumbers will go this way soon!


I must confess i've seldom enjoyed myself less at a cinema. It was a charmless portrayal of the world of ballet with all the characters being sad and weird. The plot was unfathernable which always ruins a film for me and there is nothing approaching a single laugh at any point. Frankly you have to be a wierdo yourself to enjoy a film like that.


A wasted opportunity to study a descent into madness focussed by the blurring of the lines between role and dancer. The film does not seem to know what it is, horror only starting to appear halfway through! And I can get feathers appearing as a metaphor for turning into the black swan but why was the skin peeling from her fingers and her toes bleeding, does that happen to swans? And why would her toes bond together to represent a swans foot, swans surely have longer "toes" not one big one!!! Over indulgent!! Sadly only fair to middling at best!


I agree entirely with John O'hanlon a few comments up, I have just used the same words 'boring' and 'indulgent' to my daughter when describing this film. If you enjoy constant close ups of the lovely Natalie Portman looking permanently sad for about an hour and twenty minutes then great! So so slow it was unbelievable. The last twenty minutes were exquisite, but not worth the price for twenty minutes good film making. Oh dear another over rated probably Oscar winning movie.


I loved this film from start to finish - it is incredibly beautiful and and very well done. Great balance between reality and madness.


Kept me captivated the whole way through the film as I became involved in the story line. Natalie Portman was fantastic and if you like cheesy blockbusters then this is not for you.


Most of you giving 1 or 2 stars on here should stop sub conciously using 'Eastenders' as your benchmark for realism and drama... educate yourselves a bit more. Sad to see an edgy psychological film (about madness and paranoia, not dancing) be hated by main stream viewers who have just had an orgasm over colin firth in The King's Speech......Most of what happens in the film is ridiculous and preposterous precisely because IT DIDN'T HAPPEN and is in fact her paranoia and onset of madness...i say watch the film again


I expected a edgy thriller, twist, tense but was very disappointed! Great acting by Natalie Portman but the storyline is rather excitement, thrill and doubt how good the drama was. Simply disappointed!


The most pointless, boring, self indulgent, expressionless, nauseating dross I've watched in a long time. If this is worthy of an Oscar then so am I!


relieved that others were disappointed - thought it was just me! the camerawork actually made me feel nauseous. waste of 80 mins of my life and eight quid.


I nearly fell asleep during the endless, long-drawn-out close-ups of Naralie Portman's expressionless face. Woke up for the second eventful half of this disturbing film. I cannot honestly recommend it. Only two stars, I am afraid.

Kate Williams

Wonderful acting wasted in a slow, indulgent wallow in a disturbed mind - really needed an outside perspective to give the film any real gravity or to give me any real appreciation for the main character's struggle.


On the plus side it's a relatively short film, on the down side it's one of, if not the most, boring film I've ever sat through. Self indulgent tripe.


Disappointing after all the hype. Thought it was rather dis-jointed in parts, Expected a tense, edgy thriller but story just plodded on slowly, didn't really make you connect or care about what happened to any of them. Really was just one of those films that made you think - Is that it? Best bit the Black Swan dance near the end! Sadly only 2 Stars!!!

john o'hanlon

The most boring film I've seen for a long time. At its conclusion I thought what was that all about?Indulgent on the director's part!


Saw this last night and although a number of criticisms could be levelled at it, I thought the build up to the end was excellent; and how can you better an "Original soundtrack" such as Swan Lake. I would venture to say I was very moved by the last 5 minutes, and in terms of Oscars would put Ms Portman ahead of Mr Firth. His role was a walk in the park (no pun etc.) in comparison.

patricia goodchild

So, So disappointing. We wanted to leave half way through but decided to 'stick it out'. So fed up of looking at Natalie Portman's face which lacked emotion, expression and fear. Why did we have to see so much of her face, all the other actors were almost ignored. No plot, unconvincing and in my opinion very poor direction. To be missed. Don't waste your money.


What a let down this movie was. Trite, vacuous and tedious. Although the central performances were good, they had very little to work with; the plot was extremely thin, characterisation reduced to shallow stereotypes and the drama and passion one would expect from a Swan Lake focused story were severely lacking – for a thriller it was exceptionally dull. I felt it had the potential to be something truly brilliant, but sadly the film failed to deliver on all points. Very disappointing indeed.

Kevin Tubb

I hate posting negative reviews, and I always try to start with a positive, but I am struggling here. The best I can say is that some of the set pieces were beautiful, particularly Portman's transformation into the Black Swan on Stage, however, the storyline, if we can call it that was weak, the characters were caricatures to the extent that we never feel enough for them to actually care how they end up; the cinematography was mostly hand held and became shakey and annoying and towards the end of the film - as tensions were supposed to mount, I simply wanted to laugh out loud at the sheer awfulness of the whole pointless event. If this wins a single Oscar there is no justice in the world. Save yourself the 8 quid and put it towards a night at the Royal Ballet!


All of us ( all adults) got fed up with the movie after 45 mintues. We were all (surprinsingly, considering we all aged 1960s hippies) fed up with the focus on sex which to us was unnecessarily over the top. The masturbating, lesbianism, constant hand up the vagina scenes didn't do it for us..It was so overdone, it took away from what could have been an intriguing movie.


Engrossing and entertaining, but Academy Award material? I am suprised.


Watched this film with 5 other adults and at one point we all burst out laughing and decided that this was an attempt to see how bad a film could be and pass itself off as classy - the answer is very, very bad...! I spent much of the film wanting to yell at Natalie Portman to alter her expression - the same one seemed to surfice for sad, unhappy, pained, enraptured etc. etc. etc... How she is winning all these awards beats me - it's a dreadful performance.


An edgy, taut psychological drama with an excellent central performance by Natalie Portman. The film was so unsettling that I wanted it to end, and it's not for the squeamish, but it held the interest from start to finish. My wife and I still prefer Red Shoes.


Having adored Requiem for a Dream,l found that the director just uses the same dynamics for Black Swan,except everything is exaggerated and laid on in an unsubtle manner. Firstly the director just simply copies from Pressbergers The Red Shoes.Then my heart sank when l saw the dreaded special effects in this film. This film has been financed by Hollywood money and it shows.It is too glossy,to self aware of itself. Unlike Requiem,this film has no social message.However what really irked me was the constant revolving of one minute scenes.No time for any real dialogue,just everything wizzing by. Another problem is you know the ending at the beginning.It is obvious she would triumph in the end (re- hollywood money) One for the early 30 something crowd (you will know them by the massive amount of food they consume in the cinema and then the obligatory toilet break and plenty of talking with feet pushing against the back of your seat) This film is okay,but ultimately has something lacking


It boils down to this - is she going mad or not? As such, I enjoyed the ride. No way is this a 1 star film! It's a conspiracy!!!


I can't remember the last time we considered leaving before a film ended (probably Marie Antoinette) but we stuck it out. A very weak storyline 'boosted' by sexual frustrations and horror. A waste of good money, time and grey matter (not much of the latter).


This film is unconvincing from the start. No dancer of such a fragile nature would even reach the corps let alone prima bacteria.


Very strange film. Storyline could have been so good if the writer hadnt taken it taken too far making it wierd !


i found this film quite disturbing and thought provoking, however it was very well done and it was an extremely demanding role for most of the actors especially natalie portman and Vinces cassel who i thought were really quite brave and goes to show how professional they werer about it the film itself was thought provoking and very uncomfortable at times but i think it adds to the whole element of the film


As a person who has been on that hellride to both mental and physical breakdown, I can say that this film is a pretty good stab at showing an audience how it feels to take that ride. The growing paranoia. The losing sense of reality. The growing urges to self-harm in many different ways. The awareness of losing who you thought you were, the White Swan, and who you are increasingly afraid you might actually be, the Black Swan. The looking in the mirror or at a reflection and seeing yourself and yet not yourself. Yes, even the talking pictures and voices, and moving walls and ground shaking beneath your feet, deformed and bloody toes or not. The sub-conscious mind shouldn't be underestimated in it's powerful and often even quite absurd attempts to get the attention of the conscious mind to admit that something is horribly wrong. Many people in the cinema were laughing - I could understand why. It is uncomfortable viewing. They could never really get what it's like to take that ride and I hope they will never have to. I can't say that I enjoyed the film, but I can say that it struck a definite chord, and that's what the art of film making is surely about. If you came out feeling rather disturbed and uneasy then perhaps you are actually more in touch with reality - and those who dismissed the film and laughed it off are perhaps the ones living a fantasy - who knows. One thing I'm sure of is that those involved in the making of the film will have already anticipated the wildly differing reactions to their work.

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