Movie Review – The Black Swan

The plot: A psychological thriller set in the world of New York City ballet, BLACK SWAN stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a featured dancer who finds herself locked in a web of competitive intrigue with a new rival at the company (Mila Kunis). A Fox Searchlight Pictures release by visionary director Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan takes a thrilling and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the duplicitous swan queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect.

Nina (Portman), a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who zealously supports her daughter’s professional ambition. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.

verdict: Darren Aronofsky is superb in thay you’ll never know what he’s going to do next. His rollercoaster ride for movies include, Pi, a grainy black-and-white thriller about a Jewish math prodigy; then Requiem for a Dream, a hyper-stylized melodrama about drug addicts in New York City; then The Fountain, a grandiose metaphysical nut-out with a time-traveling Hugh Jackman in pursuit of the fountain of youth; and then The Wrestler, a gritty realist tale about the redemption of a burned-out athlete. Though his movies can be more than a little weird, Aronofsky is a great filmmaker. He thrills his audience and leaves them wanting more. The Wrestler is the only one of Aronofsky’s films I am really dying to watch. It has all my favourite actors in it.

In the Black Swan, I was really let down by the ballet dance choreography and dance sequences. Though Aronofsky fetishizes tulle tutus and close-ups of bleeding feet, he seems remarkably uninterested in actual dancing, and what choreography we do see looks pretty mundane. Boring really. I mean have you seen some of these top notch ballet recitals? Have you watched Swan Lake? The choreography is bloody brilliant. There was nothing brilliant about any of the dance formations or scenes in the black swan.

Of course there are good scenes too. This one being my favourite. At the moment of getting close to being the black swan character, Nina finds the skin of her hand peeling off in long strips. She develops goosebumps that give her flesh the look of plucked poultry. These scenes have a primal power that can leave you agitated and excited at the same time. It was disgusting and surreal and made me sit up thinking, now we’re talking.  But as the movie goes on, all these over the top images of bodily disintegration and neurosis does not have a real purpose or context in the movie. Nina is just a collection of neurotic behaviors, not a character. So, what’s at stake for her as an artist? Did she have a personality worth remembering? Did her character drive the movie? I mean, yeah, she wants to be the black swan. So does everybody else. She’s bulimic.. all together now – so is everybody else.

So, was there anything else about the movie I did not dislike? I would say that the grand finale, the closing act, was the movie’s saving grace. For once, dear old Nina rose to the occasion and the ending was really as dramatic as ballet should be. I loved it. I know film critics have gone ga-ga over the show but in totality, it was just so-so for me.


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