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Black Swan centres around a gifted, graceful and technically perfect ballet dancer called Nina. Nina's ballet teacher, Thomas Leroy, chooses Nina to play the Swan Queen in the theatrical perfomance of Tshaikovski's Swan Lake - a story, simply but poignantly described by Nina, about "a girl who gets turned into a swan (white swan) and she needs love to break the spell. But her Prince falls for the wrong girl (black swan), and so she kills herself". Thomas recognises Nina's natural ability to play the innocent and virginally pure white swan and through a rejected advance he makes on her, sees there is potential for her to play the black swan ("the wrong girl"). However, Nina struggles to connect with the Black Swan's intensely dark, sexy, sensual and immoral persona that she needs to portray - and perceives a rival dancer called Lily as a fierce competitor for her role if she fails. We, the audience, are chronologically taken through Nina's immensely dark personal journey to see if she succeeds in playing both parts of the role in Swan Lake.
Performances, Production & Direction
Natalie Portman plays the starring role of Nina beautifully, diminutive in stature, very pale in colour and delicate in manner, she is the personification of the white swan. Her manner is very timid, she is sexually frigid and she is controlled by her domineering mother who was once a ballet dancer herself, and stopped to bring up Nina. Likewise, Nina is very controlled as a dancer, technically accurate, and almost perfect in executing her turns - matching the elegance needed for the white swan. However, as the rehearsals progress and get closer to the performance, Nina cannot make the metamorphosis to the white swan's evil twin, the black swan, and Natalie is very convincing as an angelic figure that cannot break through. Which is where Mila Kunis comes in aptly.
Mila plays the role of Lily - the antithesis of Nina, a provocative, sensual, sexy ballet dancer, who smokes, drinks, takes drugs - the personification of the 'black swan'. Lily starts of as a barrier to Nina's development. Nina sees how naturally Lily can be the black swan character and how easily she lets herself go of herself in her performances, where Nina is always in control of her technique and general actions. However, Lily becomes part of Nina's life, and the more she is exposed to Lily's way of living, the darker she becomes. Mila has a mischievously sexy look about her, which works very well as she cunningly tries to usurp the role as Swan Queen. There is one very sexual scene between her and Natalie, which may appear visually shocking but the chemistry between the two characters manifests effortlessly.
Winona Rider plays Beth, a sinister, desrtuctive and dangerous-minded ballet dancer who has been retired from the dance school by Thomas. Beth sees the new and upcoming star Nina rising up the ranks in contrast to her decline and her obscene jealousy leads her to attempt suicide. Her character and the influences on it are paramount to what we later see become of Nina. Winona is a great choice for her enigmatic features and her experienced acting talent in these troubled roles.
Vincent Cassel is great as Thomas, a mentor that is paramount to Nina's potential transition. Vincent brilliantly portrays this steely, clever and ambitious mentor with a gift for nurturing talent. He is ruthless in his goals, retiring Beth and choosing Lily to be Nina's alternate. Thomas knows how to get the best out his dancers - balancing encouragement with aggression and going to the extremes of seduction to push Nina through the frigid barriers she has erected.
Ultimately, the winning performance is Darren Aronofski's direction. The grittiness, reality, and the fantasy explored in this film convey his very creative and raw mind, one which has enabled a very visceral and cerebral masterpiece to unfold in front of our eyes. The camerawork is very up close to the faces of the actors. In a film about drama, theatre and emotion, this helps the audience connect with the character, and connect with the drama. I felt drawn into this film with ease and gripped until the final curtain. We see very frantic camera work in the scenes where there is drama, and we see very smooth and slow camera work when we see the dancing, emphasising the elegant art of ballet dancing. The production of light and dark colours dramatically work and intellectually compare with the White and Black swan characters that are central to the film.
The use of soundtrack is intelligent, where Tshaikovski's classical masterpieces are used to heighten and progress the drama throughout the film, with the help of the Chemical Brothers to create the edge. That edge manifests through the physical changes to Nina's body, where we see cuts and blood to injuries she has mysteriously obtained. Nina is confronted with an alter ego throughout the film - played also by Natalie Portman, darker and sexier looking but a figment of her imagination. We see these transformations to her body reach an incredible climax in the film.
In my opinion Black Swan is more than a film, its more than a theatrical masterpiece... I see Black Swan as an allegory of life itself. It subjects you to the truth that everyone has a dark side as well as a good side. In Nina's search for perfection, we see the extreme of her dark side, to get that perfect performance. All she wants is to be the perfect dancer, which she perceives as coming from technical perfection, but goes through a brutal learning curve to realise that to let go and go beyond her conscious performance of dancing, is what gains perfection.
You do not need to be at all interested in ballet dancing to watch this. The action, the drama and the humanity of the film is strong enough to overpower the fact that this is a film about ballet dancing. It is a film that anyone who has ever believed in a passion strong enough will appreciate. Admittedly, it is a dark film, and one that is not for the feint hearted to watch. There are many sexually driven scenes, so this is not one for kids and not one which the prudish will appreciate per se, but are necessary as Nina tries to break through her delicate barriers.
I connected with this film from the beginning, and by the end I was literally overwhelmed with emotion, in a way one would be to connecting with opera. The drama conveyed in this film is powerful and consuming. I found myself sat back one minute, on the edge of my seat another, biting my fingernails the next, and then just overwhelmed. It is brilliantly put together, and I find it difficult not to use hyperbole when describing it. I have not personally seen a film like this, but I have seen theatre and opera like this, and for the drama to manifest so well on screen I think make this one of the best films ever produced.
Natalie Portman ... Nina Sayers / The Swan Queen
Mila Kunis ... Lily / The Black Swan
Vincent Cassel ... Thomas Leroy / The Gentleman
Barbara Hershey ... Erica Sayers / The Queen
Winona Ryder ... Beth Macintyre / The Dying Swan
Running time: 103 minutes
Certificate: 15 years or over
- Story -
Black Swan tells the story of Nina Sayers, a ballerina based in New York who is surprised to learn that she's been given the benefit of the doubt and awarded the top role of the queen swan or white swan for the new production of Swan Lake - however this comes at quite a price, as things seem to take a distinctly sinister turn soon after. She starts to feel that others, including a new ballet dancer called Lily, is out to replace her but is it all in her mind? can she really handle all the pressure involved? you'll have to watch the movie to find out.
- Thoughts & Opinions -
This is yet another very tense movie, which is quite absorbing given the use of the applicable classical score to heighten said tension. Also again this movie is very much not for the squeamish, I admit I found myself wincing and wanting to look away on ocassion, guessing what was going to happen, which I'll mention a bit more about later on in this review.
The relationship between Nina and her trainer Thomas is quite clearly strained - his advances being not wanted at first, though as Nina becomes more drawn into the world of ballet through being given the prestiguous queen swan role, she sees things differently, I suppose.
Its really quite a claustrophobic movie I feel, the characters having different agendas and Nina finding herself lost - it seems clear whats going on at first but slowly we realise that something more sinister is at hand, which makes you question what you see.
The camerawork is done in such a way that makes it feel more realistic, following behind her (in a documentary sort of style I suppose) with rough, jagged movement as she walks or runs down the corridors at the ballet school. These jagged type movements are matched by smoother, more 'direct/professional' type shots highlighting scenes while the play is taking place on stage and during rehearsals.
This movie includes multiple scenes with blood and what could be perceived as self harm, so be aware of that - this is one reason why I winced a little as mentioned earlier on.
As you can tell, its quite a dark and depressing movie but its quite gripping and it certainly leaves you questioning things and guessing - at one hour and forty minutes in length, its a good length as well, not too padded out yet not entirely rushed either.
I felt that the cast did well in their character portrayals, both good and bad, they were quite convincing. I'm aware that Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis have been the two main cast members that have received praise in the media etc. for this movie (at least as far as I remember hearing anyway), so instead in this review I'd like to single out Vincent Cassel, who plays Thomas Leroy, Nina's trainer. He has quite a sinister look about him and I felt he was particularly well portrayed.
It did have the feel of a well made movie, its just not one that everyone will necessarily enjoy - there are scenes of a sexual nature which could easily embarrass some (this is probably not a title you'd want to watch with your parents) and also I should probably add that there are both scenes of heterosexual and homosexual acts if but brief and mainly hinted at I suppose, so yes this isn't for everyone quite clearly but, as with others, for what it is, I thought it was competently made.
I'd also like to add that its more about Nina as a character than the world of ballet itself, though its her newly earnt title in this particularly all-or-nothing type world which leads her to her ultimate journey - of couse if you know the rough story, you should be ok with that though.
I felt that the movie finished with a pleasing crescendo (as such) which was a fitting ending - I suppose its up to you to decide how much of what we see is indeed reality but I thought it was fairly impressive anyway. Now whether I think its worth all the awars and praise it received it perhaps debatable, I'm not sure I'd say its entirely excellent somehow but I'd certainly say its very good. One thing I wasn't entirely keen on was ocassional use of CGI, which I felt was a bit over the top somehow, they were perhaps getting a little carried away adding those parts, although I suppose they do their 'job' to question, or highlight, Nina's state of mind at that particular mind.
This is a movie you have to concentrate on to become pulled into Nina's world and to try to dissect what's going on and what she's seeing - I think this movie probably would live up to multiple viewings, which is a plus.
- Would I Recommend It? -
Yes, I'd recommend this movie - its competently made with good character portrayals, its quite gripping and absorbing and you don't have to necessarily be a big fan of ballet to enjoy the movie, I reckon. On the negative side, there are scenes which some people will find distressing, including scenes of cutting/blood and perceived self harm as well as scenes of a sexual nature and also I wasn't particularly keen on the odd use of CGI for some reason, so I'm marking it down slightly for that but otherwise I would recommend it.
Thanks for reading my review, I hope that you found it useful and I'd like to say thanks for all rates and comments.
Film Only Review
Released : 2010
Running Time : 108 minutes
Director : Darren Aronofsky
Rating : 15
Nina Sayers is a ballerina dancer who has been chosen to play the lead role of the White Swan in Swan Lake. It isn't plain sailing though. She has to contend with her controlling mother and also her rival Lily who wishes to take her place as the Black Swan. Nina is perfect for the role of the White Swan but must learn to take on the role of the darker Black Swan.
*Nina - Natalie Portman
*Lily - Mila Kunas
*Thomas Leroy - Vincent Cassel
*Erica Sayers - Barbara Hershey
*Beth Macintyre - Winona Ryder
Black Swan is currently available to purchase from Amazon priced at £5.44.
I first borrowed Black Swan from a friend and after watching it, I was adamant that I wanted my own copy. I was pleased to see it in my local Morrisons DVD department priced at just £3.00. It has definitely become one of my favourite, modern films and one of the best that I have watched recently. I am not a fan of films that are focussed around dancing but Black Swan is on a completely different scale.
Natalie Portman was definitely a smart choice for the role of Nina. At first, she comes across as being a very vunerable, shy girl who has been controlled by her mother (a former dancer). She is easily led and her character goes from strength to strength in this film due to being encouraged by Thomas Leroy (who is running the production) and through her twisted, unusual friendship with rival Lily. Having watched many of Portmans films, this is by far her best role in my opinion.
Lily, is the total opposite of Nina. A sexy, outgoing character who is played well by Mila Kunas. Nina isn't sure of Lily right from the start and it becomes clear that she wishes to take over the role of the Black Swan. From here on in, Nina changes her attitude and becomes more confident but this isn't all down to her desire for this role. She reaches out to her dark side which comes through perfectly in this film.
The other main characters do add a lot to the film. Thomas is your typical, pushy director. Erica (the mother) is a deranged, possessive lady who can see that something terrible is taking over her quiet daughter. Beth (Ryder) plays a minor role but it is still important. She is being replaced by younger Nina. The supporting actors include a range of professional dancers who all add to the film beautifully.
The plot of Black Swan is excellent and executed perfectly in my opinion. There is a lot of supsense built through the characters. A lot of the film is filmed in the theatre as you would expect. The setting is perfect. I found the film to be well paced for a pyschological horror. There is a lot of intense scenes in the build up to the actual main performance. There is violence, sexual content (including a rather hot lesbian scene) and a lot of rather sickening, difficult to watch scenes involving violence.
The transformation from the White Swan to the Black Swan is amazing if a little slow. The character development is exceedingly well played and I found myself becoming very engrossed in this film. It is an incredibly dark, engaging film which isn't all about a pretty ballerina. It runs much deeper. I loved watching the friendship between Nina and Lily develop. It wasn't your typical, friendly encounter. It was quite sinister and at times, erotic and unexpected. It is very disturbing and there is a fine line created between what is real and what isn't. There is generous use of special effects in this film and they are very well executed.
Other aspects of this film really make it outstanding. As well as some stunning dancing techniques and beautiful costumes/make up, the music used in this film is very relevant. The Tchaikovsky music is perfectly placed and certainly increases the tension within the film. The ending of Black Swan was outstanding. As you would expect, the show must go on and there is a satisfying, dramatic climax. The build up to the ending is visually stunning and is carried out well due to wonderful acting and direction. I found myself being very satisfied by the ending but rather sad for many reasons.
I absolutely love this film. The acting is outstanding and I love witnessing the dark, sinister side of the film. The role of Nina is spectacular and the way her character changed through this film was what had me gripped. It didn't disappoint and is one of the best pyschological horrors as it is so beautifully filmed. There were scenes that shocked me and scared me quite a bit and that is exactly what I want from a film like this.
There is a generous amount of violence, blood and sexual scenes which are very intense at times and not for the faint hearted or to watch with younger children. The 15 rating is quite low in my opinion given the content of Black Swan. This type of film won't be to everyones tastes but if you aren't offended by the content I have mentioned then I would give it a watch.
Thanks for reading :)
RELEASED: 2010, Cert. 15
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 110 mins
DIRECTOR: Darren Aronofsky
PRODUCERS: Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer & Brian Oliver
SCREENPLAY: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz & John McLaughlin
MUSIC: Clint Mansell
Natalie Portman as Nina (white swan)
Mila Kunis as Lily (black swan)
Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy
Winona Ryder as Beth MacIntyre
Barbara Hershey as Erica (Natalie's mother)
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Nina is an ambitious young dancer who is auditioning at her ballet company for the part of both the white and black swans in its presentation of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, after Beth MacIntyre has been retired from playing the lead role.
Under the direction of Thomas Leroy who pushes her quite hard, Nina begins to crack up, and throughout the rehearsals, her behaviour deteriorates rapidly as she also has to compete with Lily who Thomas uses as her standby. Additionally, Nina has to cope with her ex-ballet dancer mother Erica, whose affections seem to blow hot and cold, is over-protective and pushes her daughter far too hard to succeed.
I suppose the crux of the film is....does Nina manage to convince Thomas that she is perfect for both the roles of black and white swan, or does she botch the whole thing up whilst losing her mind?
I chose to watch Black Swan after all the hype, anticipating a good, absorbing psychological thriller. I'm not particularly a fan of ballet, but can enjoy a good, well-acted film in any setting, so thought I'd give this a go.
Almost immediately, within just the first few frames, I became irritated. Although it is something I can't pin down or ground, the opening atmosphere lost me completely on a heart and soul level, as there seemed to be a kind of an emptiness about the whole mood which was being created. Such wasn't assisted by me finding Natalie Portman's diction very indistinct to the point where I could only understand about 30% of her dialogue throughout the whole film. Her acting, although by no means excellent, was otherwise passable, but not good enough to enthrall me.
I found certain aspects of the storyline to be 'bitty' and confusing. It wasn't that I didn't understand it because it does come across as an easy ride....it was more that for me there was little or no character development and I began to get confused as to who was who amongst the female members of the ballet group.
The acting by the whole cast struck me as being decidedly mediocre, with my favourite character being dance instructor Thomas Leroy. He wasn't great, but for me was the best of a rather bland bunch.
Whilst I was watching, I was eagerly waiting for something gripping to happen, but there was nothing which stimulated the 'wow' factor in me whatsoever. I also found some of the visual aspects of the film clumsily put together, especially a few of the sections whereby it appeared that the camera was panning around for effect, but whoever was in charge must have had a very shaky hand. This made my eyes go all funny, causing a marked distraction from the struggle I was already experiencing in trying to find something enjoyable about this film.
I didn't notice any incidental music, but there must have been some because Clint Mansell is credited for such on the DVD sleeve....in this case I'm wondering if he merely arranged the score, because to me it largely consists of sections of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake - which is enjoyable in itself, and quite likely was the best overall part of this film.
I also wasn't happy with the way that Nina's psychological decline was portrayed. It is very difficult to put across what she was experiencing in film format, but I feel that other movies have conveyed similar far more accurately.
Overall, I found Black Swan quite a dark and depressing film which isn't a problem in itself, but there for me was nothing strong to back up the bleak mood and atmosphere....and the whole thing (Tchaikovsky's music aside) merely created a temporary and rather tedious diversion from my own little life whereby I probably could have been doing something far more rewarding.
I really do feel that as it stands, Black Swan falls far short of its hype, but it is possible that something good could be drawn from it were it remade, with a new direction/production team and cast. The story in itself is fine, but fell flat on its face for me as I'd like to have seen it approached and created from a totally different angle.
It does seem that I'm in a minority for not liking Black Swan, but I'm afraid it just didn't hit my spot in the slightest, and any messages which may have been contained within simply bypassed me. If I watch a psychological thriller film as this is supposed to be, I want to be excited, stimulated and intrigued....not bored out of my mind or frustrated by poor camera work and indistinct dialogue. I will say just one good thing....and that was to do with the film's ending in that it eventually happened (which was a relief), but at the same time it was what I wanted it to be and how I anticipated.
In summary: One for the charity shop, but I'll award two stars because of the music and what happens at the end.
At the time of writing, Black Swan can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £4.79 to £13.49
Used: from £1.68 to £10.00
Collectible: Two copies currently available, one @ £4.00 and one @ £5.00
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
If you haven't heard of or seen this film then I think I'm safe in assuming you have lived in a cave for the last couple of years.
For those cave dwellers though, this film was released in 2010 and centres around a production of Swan Lake (quickly wikipedia this if you are unfamiliar with Tchaikovsky's work). It has received wide critical praise and was a huge box office success. The film received five Academy Award nominations among many other prestigious accolades. The film is best described as a psychological thriller or, more accurately, a mind f**k.
The film follows Nina (Natalie Portman) a dancer with the New York ballet company who lives with her mother. The director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), announces trials for the lead role of Swan Lake having recently cut his principal dancer, Beth (Winona Ryder). The main role requires a dancer capable or portraying the innocence and naivety of the white swan whilst also embodying the dark and sensual black swan - her twin. Nina's audition goes badly but she asks the director to reconsider, he explains that she suits the vulnerability of the white swan but that she lacks the raw passion to play the black swan. When he provokes her to show some spirit by kissing her she bites his lip and lands herself the part.
It is hard to explain much more of the plot without revealing a large majority of what happens. Nina basically becomes more and more paranoid and experiences weirder and weirder hallucinations. She is overly critical of herself the the pressure of the role becomes an overwhelming burden on her. She begins to see a wild and reckless double of her self, just as the play foretells. A jealousy builds in her and is directed towards fellow ballet dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) whom Nina sees as a competitor for her role. When Lily is made her understudy Nina is incensed and her paranoia culminates in a dramatic and feverish explosion.
The entire film is like a bad trip. She has constant hallucinations of her double hurting her in increasingly disturbing ways. She even begins to transform into the swan as she discovers feather growing from her back and her toes meshing together to form webbed feet. As a viewer these parts are uncomfortable to watch, and that's the whole point really - the whole thing is designed to make you feel distinctly unsettled.
This progression towards madness is matched by an equally unnerving colour palette in the film. As you might expect a great deal of shots are tempered by the colours black and white. These are used cleverly to indicate the different facets of Nina's evolving personality. Otherwise characters are also represented in this way, Lily is very much the embodiment of the black swan - she is free, spirited, spontaneous and passionate, everything Nina fails to be. As a result much of Lily's wardrobe is black, and as a contrast much of Nina's is dominated by lighter colours like pink and white. The use of colour is one of the cleverer and more striking elements in this film, and it is used in a way I've really never seen executed so successfully before.
What is great about the film is that it takes ballet and makes it awesome in a way never achieved before. I'm sure loads of people went away thinking they wanted to see the Swan Lake ballet for real. In reality ballet is incredibly dull (disclaimer: personal opinion), it is long and not much happens. This film manages to amp up the drama in an exciting and totally mesmerising way. I was particularly impressed by Portman and Kunis who actually endured ballet training in preparation for this film - living proof that we must suffer for art.
The overall impact is of something horrifyingly sexy. By that I mean you know it's dangerous and at times unpleasant but you can't help but me attracted to it in a weird way. I guess I would liken it to Cher, ventriloquism or ugly babies - you know you shouldn't look (read: stare), you know it's going to be uncomfortable viewing but you just can't tear your eyes away. I found almost as the film progressed and Nina's paranoia deepened so did my own, and this is why it's such a clever film.
I first saw it in the cinema but since bought myself a copy from HMV which if I recall correctly was in a 2 for £10 offer. Getting a recent release for a fiver is pretty excellent in my book so I'm very happy with my purchase. It isn't one of those films I'll watch once a month and it certainly isn't light hearted viewing. I find with films like this I definitely need to be in a dark mood to watch them, but when the movie stars do eventually align it feels so, so right.
My only word of warning would be that some of the scenes are gruesome, and definitely scary in parts. It will mess with your head a little bit so definitely make sure you settle yourself in a safe place first. Oh and just a quick note, there is a lesbian sex scene so definitely not one to watch with your parents!
Overall, a brilliantly schizophrenic movie but one I have to be in the mood for.
Black Swan is a film I have wanted to see since its release in 2010. I am a little uncultured in some arts. I know not a lot about ballet, but I do like watching it. I had seen clips for this film, and heard many good things about it, so I went into watching it with an open mind, and quite high expectations due to its main star, Natalie Portman who won both an Oscar and a BAFTA for her role in 2011.
The plot of this film surrounds a New York ballet company who are putting on a production of the famous Swan Lake. Portman play Nina Sayers, a girl very dedicated to her training, and who desperately wants the coveted role of the Queen Swan. Her competition is newcomer to the company, Lily (Mila Kunis.) While Nina is the perfect person for the role of the White Swan, Lily is the care-free and risque personality who is perfect for the Black swan part of the role.
Nina is picked for the role, but she is very stressed when she cannot make director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) happy with her performance in rehearsals. As she practices harder and harder in an attempt to achieve artistic perfection, she is consumed, and her mind and body begin to show the effects of exhaustion.
Nina is an unusual character. She is very cosseted by her mother, who was forced to retire from professional dancing when she fell pregnant with Nina, and she is trying to live the life she wanted through her, as well as protecting her from making the same mistake that she did. It is a strange relationship where Nina is in a role much younger than her actual age in her mother's eyes at least. This prevents her acting in a less uptight way in her role on stage, and the director encourages her to live a little and loosen up.
Lily is an extrovert, and her motive is that she would really like to be the one in the main role. When she is made into the understudy, Nina becomes convinced that she is trying to sabotage her shot at the big time. Nina moves further and further into her dark side to make the role her own.
There are many other dancers in the production that get some plot time, but really, the central characters are the 4 I have outlined. The most significant minor character is the person who was the main lead in the cast before Nina was given the role. Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) is not on screen much, but her performance is powerful as the older woman being pushed out of the way to make room for a new star. She plays bitter and venomous really well, and I did not recognise her as the actor at all as she portrayed the character so well.
Portman and Kunis are both absolutely stunning in this film. Both put in over 6 months of training before filming so that their bodies look the part of a professional dancer, and so they could complete the routines. Both had body doubles for the actual dance sequences used in the film, but the shots of Portman from the waist up were her own actions used in the film. I think the result is amazing and believable.
Before watching the film, I had not really looked into the classification of the film, maybe it would have put me off a little knowing it was a psychological horror. This was a hard film to watch as you have these beautiful and normal sequences of the ballet being rehearsed and performed, contrasted with the things happening to Nina as her anxiety builds. At first, it is minor, but as the film progresses, it is enough to make you not want to look at the screen at points. One particular example was when Portman started to peel strips of skin off her fingers. Another example was Nina's mums hand being trapped in a door. I felt nauseated watching them.
Special effects are done so well that you barely notice that is what they are. The most stunning one when Nina as the Black Swan sprouts actual wings as she is pirouetting around the stage. They are so subtle most of the time.
The soundtrack was mostly the familiar classical music by Tchaikovsky as you would see in any performance of Swan Lake, with some electronica dance music by the Chemical Brothers to co-incide with a scene where Lily takes Nina out to a club. It fit well around the plot of the film so that it was fairly unobtrusive and your concentration was on the plot and the dancing.
I was left so confused for the majority of this film. As I was watching I wasn't convinced at all I was even enjoying it as I spent so long trying to figure it out and get my head round all I was watching on screen. I am still not sure I liked it.
I felt some of the sex scenes were a bit gratuitous and not really relevant to me for the flow of the plot, but I guess it is a good way to boost box office sales. Cynical, moi? I still didn't even really feel like I got it at the end.
I think a lot of my problem with this is that it has been so well reviewed and rated by others, that my sense of expectation was very high, and while the dancing met that expectation, I didn't find that the film did for me. I see why others think so highly of it, but in the end it was a bit much for me.
My husband has a theory that we should avoid films that are nominated for Oscars as they are usually a bit weird or rubbish. This one I would categorise as weird. It wasn't easy to watch. My husband did predict which way it was going to pan out, and got it right, although we were just both a bit grossed out by it and underwhelmed.
I will therefore, give this a rating of 3/5 for me, although I see from the IMDb site that it got an average rating of 8.2/10. I agree, choreography, soundtrack and costumes, and acting were all great, but it was not that enjoyable watching this personally. I think it is one you need to watch for yourself though, as I am certainly glad I got chance to watch it and say I have seen it. I'm left with no desire to watch it again though, and the hubbie says he has been put off ballet for life.
(Film only review.)
I know that there are some people who would rate Black Swan with 5 stars purely because of the rather intense fantasy sex scenes that take place between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis who are, of course, very beautiful ladies. I however would like to base my review on the rest of the film.
The plot follows highly dedicated New York ballet dancer Nina as she is auditions to play the role of the Swan Queen in her company's production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.
While Nina possesses the traits of the innocent White Swan, she also unfortunately for her lacks the more sensual, dark side which would match to the part of the Black Swan. We see as her rival dancer (Kunis) who is Nina's opposite in practically every way succeeds in fulfilling both the role of the Black and the White Swan, almost stealing the part from Nina.
Portman and Kunis' electric performances create a hellcat competition between the two performers and intensely sumptuous viewing.
However, I would recommend that viewers are careful of the company that they keep while watching the film! If like me you thought it would be a good film to see with your mother, you probably also discovered that no, it is not. Whilst it is a brilliant film it is more certainly not family viewing, unless of course you actually enjoy those awkward stare-at-the-screen-and-do-not-move-your-head-an-inch moments.
There was a lot of hype and advertisement for this film, so I was keen to check it out and judge for myself what I thought of it. I can't say the ballet part really interested me that much, but it was the psychological aspects and its darker quirkiness that I enjoyed and would recommend this for.
Black Swan was directed by Darren Aronofsky (Pi, The Wrestler, Requiem For A Dream), and his experience and skill seemed to shine through as this film had a high quality, well-polished feel to it.
The basic premise is that ballet dancer Nina (played wonderfully by Natalie Portman) is desperately wanting to fulfil her dreams when an opportunity presents itself. After auditioning for a role in Swan Lake, the company directed (played by Vincent Cassel), declares she's perfect for the role of Princess Odette, the white swan. Simply put, there's a good swan that's white, and a bad swan that's black, called Odile. She's going to be the good angelic one, but there's a lot of competition within the company and only the best survive.
The pressure mounts and Nina is starting to crack, slowly but surely. The director decides she could play both swans, but they will require different approaches, the white one more graceful and the black one more lusty and sexual, with a glint of evil in each step. It's a lot of attention being cast in Nina's direction, and some aren't too happy about that, including the rivalry experienced between her and a newer dancer (played by Mila Kunis).
I won't say much more about the plot, except that it's building up to a grand finale, to a Swan Lake performance like never before. The question is whether Nina will make it without fracturing her psyche let alone any bones. Along the way we see a few other characters, including Nina's mum, which gives context to the characters and enables us to situate them and understand them that bit better.
I liked a lot about the film, particularly the dark, psychological undertones. This is a thriller, and a bit of a mind-bender at that, so it's one to focus your attention on. The way the stress, pressure and perfectionism affect the protagonist, Nina, is done in a gradual yet pervasive way; it's believable and palpable. Portman does an excellent job as the aspiring ballet dancer, and she must have done a lot of work to prepare for the role in terms of her body strength and ballet moves. She was a significant credit to the film, making it enjoyable, emotive and intriguing to watch.
The one thing that I would say about this that wasn't so positive was that there were times it felt like it dragged a little; despite the nice music and edgy appeal, it did have moments where I felt the tempo dropped and it became a tad boring. This was usually rectified, but overall it wasn't necessarily a 'lively' piece so some concentration on the film, and dedication to watching it from start to finish, was required. I do, however, think it was designed as a psychological thriller, so for me this wasn't too much of a 'bad' thing per se.
The cast overall felt quite strong, especially with the introduction of Kunis alongside Portman. Each character played their part well and added to the atmosphere because of it, making the scenes come to life in a way that felt believable. Seeing Nina's psychological stability start to crumble was gripping to watch as it was made so powerful and poignant. The energy and suspense accumulated well, with the pace picking up just enough to keep it flowing well, for it to be animated and interesting, rather than feeling too slow or too rushed. It seemed to strike a good balance all around really, and so although at times I would understand some criticising its slower moments when focusing on Nina, I would say that this only helped to create the atmosphere.
The Times called this flick 'Magnificent' and the News of the World gave it 5 stars whilst calling it a 'Masterpiece'. Unsurprisingly, Portman was both an academy and Bafta Award winner. All in all, reviews seem to be pretty positive about this and mine is mostly just adding to them.
This is the type of film to give the benefit of the doubt if you initially think it may not be your cuppa tea. I wasn't sure with the ballet aspects, and yet it pleasantly surprised me when I finished the film and was left reeling afterwards. It was a fantastic film that deserves (most of) the praise it gets.
Released May 2011, rated Certificate 15
DVD & digital copy selling on Amazon for £6.99
Star - Natalie Portman
Run Time - 108 minutes
Oscars - One Win (5 Nominations).
Genre - Drama
Cert - 15
The Black Swan is one of those movies serious film fans dread, hyped to the eyeballs and pretentious as can be! It's strategically released during Oscar season to attract the plaudits of those likewise critics so you just know it's going to be as dull as dishwater because of that, really about Hollywood finding a way to Oscar a popular actress than inviting the audience to enjoy a cinema treat, Natalie Portman's turn in the sun. Yes it's a powerful lead performance by the pretty New York waif but you really need a thrilling narrative to go with to get into a film about ballet. This is not quite The English Patient torture by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler) here but put the teabags by kettle for half-time if you do go on and rent this. Don't get me wrong, Portman is a good actress and we can't hold the Phantom Menace against her forever, quite brilliant in Beautiful Girls as the precocious young teenage next door neighbor to Mat Dillon. But my word she has to work hard to get you to stay with this rather pretentious and tedious tale.
If you don't know the Swan Lake story then you're in the right company. I can't stand ballet! Basically the white swan is a virgin princess who can only free herself by falling in love, meeting that prince of her dreams mid ballet (some 7 hours in!!). But the horrid black swan temptress steps in and steals him away from her to break her heart. The only way the white swan can now be free is to kill herself, the attempt by Aronofsky to play out the metaphor in the film. That is deemed really clever and so the film got loads of art and culture critics wetting their pants in anticipation of such a bold project. I can hear you all applauding now with your opera glass.
Natalie Portman ... Nina Sayers
Mila Kunis ... Lily
Vincent Cassel ... Thomas Leroy
Barbara Hershey ... Erica Sayers
Winona Ryder ... Beth Macintyre
Benjamin Millepied ... David
Ksenia Solo ... Veronica
Kristina Anapau ... Galina
When premaballerina Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) is to be replaced in Swan Lake, art director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) throws the audition open to his troop, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) the front runner. But she has competition, bad girl Lily (Mila Kunis) hot on her toes, the worldlier of the girls and ideal to play both the black and white swan, the twist to this year's production.
Leroy is a hard taskmaster and puts the girls though it, but not as tough as Nina's mum Erica (Barbara Hershey), a ballerina herself and living her lost career vicariously through her talented daughter. Ballet is everything to both of them and the two live, drink and eat dance in their small Manhattan apartment.
When Nina gets the part the Sayers family is elated, no hard feelings with Lily on the surface between the girls. In fact Lily wants to party with Nina to get to know her more as Leroy impresses the need for Nina to get nastier to capture the transition from white to black swan. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, Nina as she is, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality, Lily as she is. Meanwhile the previous black swan Beth is going slowly nuts in the hospital after a car accident that has finished her career and Nina also acting a bit odd as the pressure gets to her, paranoia, self harm and hallucinations taking over her life as the big night approaches. But will she hold it all together or will understudy Lily steal her thunder...
Just as going to the ballet is really all about being seen and not really enjoying the performance, it's the same with Black Swann. I find it hard to believe that the people who voted this up to an impressive 8.4 on the IMDB movie site to make into there top 100 films ever made actually meant that rating. It's one of those movies that if you don't enjoy it you are some how not up on the nuance and visually creative we call cinema and so some a philistine in some way. It's like saying you don't like Radiohead when you were at university. Only clever people like Radiohead, right? Well I didn't like this, or Radiohead, come to think of it.
The elfin Natalie Portman lost 20 pounds for the role and features in some of the dance sequences. The girl who did all the difficult ballet moves on her behalf nearly sued the studio making the movie when Portman tried to take credit for all the dance moves in the film. She is good in the lead though and captures the passion and sacrifice needed to succeed at the very top in ballet, including the methods the girls and boys deploy to stay supple and slim. You do see the visual transformation of white to black swan in Portman's performance but do you really care by that point is the question.
The film is surprisingly macabre at times and certainly gratuitous, the interpolated five minute lesbian scene clearly only there to wake the boys up in the cinema after being dragged out to see this tedium by the misses, a date flick this is not. In fact I would say this is a chick flick in all but name. All I know is never be ashamed to say you don't like something that everyone else seems to, Black Swan as plausible as it is dull.
Imdb.com - 8.4 out of 10 (186, 567 votes)
Metacritic.com - 79% critics approval rating
Rottentomatos.com - 87% approval rating
The Guardian - "An exercise in the higher kitsch, a slick, pretentious film in which the polished surface is a distorting mirror".
Empire Magazine - "An extraordinary, intoxicating movie. Its hard, twisted edges may turn off some, but there's no faulting either Aronofsky's technical mastery or Portman's flawless performance".
Movies.com - "Darren Aronofsky is a national movie treasure at this point. His films aren't really art, they're just sort of arthouse by way of funhouse"
The Akron Enquirer -" Black Swan aspires to be little more than a showy, twisty thriller with no attempt at plausibility. But I still found it less and less appealing as it lurched toward the end".
Film Only Review:
Nina (Natalie Portman) is a dedicated ballet dancer and part of a huge ballet company in New York City. She's desperate to play the lead role when Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) is retired off from being the leading lady in Swan Lake and auditions for the part but is pretty certain after a mishap an a few unkind words from Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) that she doesn't get the role. She's a nice girl and like I say dedicated to ballet and wants to be the best and lives with her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who was once herself a ballet dancer but gave it all up when pregnant with Nina.
The film explores Nina's desires to be the best, and Nina, wells shes a nice girl really. She can dance the part of the white, pure souled swan beautifully but Thomas isn't convinced she can play the evil black swan.... the evil but sexy temptress however decides to give her a bash.
Enter jealousy and self doubting, particularly from Nina. She starts to see things....but are they real? Is her paranoia justified and can she become the black swan and start feeling the role before another talented dancer, her new friend takes the role from her?
As cuts starts appearing and her friendship with Lily (Mila Kunis), a beautiful and wonderful dancer who can dance the black swan with wild abandon grows, Nina starts to see a life outside of ballet with desire peeping in, dancing and even the drug Ecstasy but again, is it all real or is Nina simply losing the plot? Will she be able to play the black swan or is it all doomed or is it all even a dream?
This film is very dark, physiological and for the first half of the film I was left a little confused and it took me a while to latch on to what I was viewing. The film pretty much takes place at the theatre and in the apartment she lives in with her overbearing mother and I did feel a little penned in as a viewer which I guess was the point of how it was filmed.
However I really didn't enjoy the movie at all. Natalie playing Nina was a good choice of leading lady and to be fair Vincent playing Thomas (the director) who was slimy and sometimes a bit sexy coming on to Nina and trying to get her to stop thinking inside the box all the time and there was a nice bit of sexual chemistry between them was decent storytelling however I failed to notice that Winona Ryder was even in the film till I read other peoples reviews on the film. The music was good however I kind of spoilt the ending for myself as I got tired of it and guessed the abrupt ending so there was no surprise to me.
Its an ok film but not mesmerizing to me or Oscar worthy and I had really looked forward to watching this one for quite a while. All I can think of is that there wasn't all that many good films released the year that this was. Too long, too droll and it totally put me off watching people do ballet now as it looks so flipping painful!
Running time 108 minutes.
I have some friends who would rate "Black Swan" five stars simply because it features a scene where Natalie Portman gets licked out by her evil twin; and, perhaps if I was part of Fox Searchlight's marketing department and was targeting a certain demographic, I might even get that in the tag line somehow.
As I'm sure you're aware, "Black Swan", Darren Aronofsky's much-hyped companion piece to 2008's "The Wrestler" was one of the most eagerly awaited, talked about and critically acclaimed films of last year.
Despite all the award nominations the film received, "Black Swan" rides on the back of "The Wrestler"s almost unanimous goodwill and respect, and is an inferior film; it's certainly an entertaining, atmospheric psychological thriller, but starts off in the realms of Polanski's "Repulsion", and ends up more like Dario Argento's "Suspiria." In other words, it's actually an intense, hysterical, bonkers piece of schlock dressed up as a serious Oscar-contending character study.
Natalie Portman's Oscar winning turn sees her as Nina Sayers, a brittle and beautiful young dancer for an illustrious New York ballet company. The company is gearing up for a fresh, modern take on Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake", and the arrogant and charismatic Director, Thomas LeRoy (Vincent Cassel) is looking for a new Swan Queen.
Nina is devoted to her craft and practises incessantly at home in front of the mirror; she lives in an apartment with her mum, Erica (Barbara Hershey) who was also a ballet dancer before she fell pregnant with Nina. The mother and daughter have a rather suffocating, touchy-feely relationship that feels a bit unhealthy, particularly with Erica's extra edge, pushing Nina to succeed where she didn't. She's like an ultra competitive "Soccer Mom" crossed with Norman Bates's Old Dear.
Nina is a contender for the Swan Queen role she craves, although has a problem - Thomas acknowledges she is perfect for the part of the pristine, virginal White Swan, but lacks the sensuality in her dancing to convince as the passionate Black Swan.
That side of the role seems more suited to one of Nina's rival dancers, Lily (Mila Kunis), who is everything Nina isn't - a carefree, promiscuous wildcat, who is not afraid to invest her innate eroticism into her dancing.
The ballet company is portrayed as a tense, bitchy, ambitious group of young women, and as Nina is seduced by Thomas and works her way into the role, she also draws venom from the company's previous principle dancer, Beth (Winona Ryder), an over the hill ballerina forced into retirement by the enigmatic director.
As the pressure of attaining this prestigious role takes it's toll on Nina's already fragile state of mind, she begins to suffer hallucinations, as she starts to catch glimpses of a dark doppleganger apparently dogging her footsteps.
Aronofksy uses virtually the same technique here as in "The Wrestler" - he sticks a handheld camera behind the central character, and follows them around through their daily lives. This technique puts the viewer right in the character's personal bubble - with Randy the Ram, we were so close to the aging wrestler we could hear his grunts and laboured breathing, smell the peroxide in his hair and the jockstrap stench of the crowded locker rooms he got changed in, and almost feel the creak of his protesting muscles.
Here, the technique is far more uncomfortable - it's one thing following around a well-pumped man, not adverse to getting slammed through a table covered in drawing pins to entertain the crowd, but another breathing over the shoulder of a petite, frail young woman.
It's far more voyeuristic, which means during the sex scenes, the viewer is also right in on the act, and in the context of a psychological thriller, it is effective building a sense of dread - we're so close to Nina that we can't see anything that might be about to jump out on her.
This quiet, insistent feeling of menace it beautifully sustained for the first two acts of the film, with a few jolts thrown in for good measure - Aronofsky embraces the use of mirrors for cheap scares, as well as hammering home the theme of evil double images.
Unlike "The Wrestler", "Black Swan" betrays it's super-confident, ice cool exterior and feels more like an amalgam of previous films - Aronofsky pays homage to the Powell-Pressburger masterpiece "The Red Shoes" with a 360 POV whip-pan borrowed directly from the earlier film; there's a shock cut to Nina's mum at an unexpected moment that recalls Hitchcock's reveal of Mrs Bates in "Psycho"'; and a bathtub scene that feels simultaneously like a moment in "A Nightmare on Elm Street" or from the underrated Pfieffer/Ford shriekfest "What Lies Beneath".
The performances are mostly excellent - Natalie Portman brings her usual intelligence and frosty sexuality to the role of Nina. Portman is one of the most fearless contemporary actresses at work in Hollywood these days, unafraid to tackle adult roles, be it in the inconsequential sex comedy "No Strings Attached"or as a stripper in Mike Nichols' "Closer".
She's thoroughly believable as the ambitious, feeble-minded Nina, although the role feels rather linear and two dimensional - Nina goes from focussed to frustrated to turned on to shrill, shrill, shriller.
Cassel is typically intense as the egotistic and charismatic LeRoy - it's hard to believe is over fifteen years since he seared his image on the screen in 1995's "La Haine". LeRoy is a man of passionate perfection, big ideas and flashy concepts, and is an unapologetic predator of the beautiful young women in his control. Cassel believably makes LeRoy the type of arrogant, romantic rogue of an older man young girls would fall for.
Kunis makes the most of a limited role as the fun-loving, uninhibited Lily, endowing the character with an undercurrent of vulnerability and hard knocks wisdom that the naive Nina is drawn to and envies.
Hershey has the unforgiving nutty mum role, which means she acts like a woman dangerously in love with her child, cloying and controlling, and probably drinks too much when she's by herself. I've already mentioned Mrs Bates - the other movie mum she resembles when she's around is Sissy Spacek's mother in "Carrie", played by Piper Laurie.
There's very little room for breath in "Black Swan" as it builds and builds towards it's frantic, hysterical, schizophrenic final third. In the meantime, we can also draw further comparisons with the superior "Wrestler", and ballet and wrestling generally - the punishment placed on the body to acquire the physical and aesthetic perfection each profession demands; the artifice and performance of both dramas; the desire to be wanted and to please the audience, the almost pathological dependency on the crowd's approval.
"Black Swan" is not a perfect film by any means, but has the weight and confidence as well as the visceral thrills to make it as close as you get to a must watch these days.
Basic Information -
Black Swan (2010) - USA
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Formats: DVD, Blu-Ray
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin
Music: Clint Mansell, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Nina Sayers: Natalie Portman
Thoma LeRoy: Vincent Cassel
Erica Sayers: Barbara Hershey
Average Rating on MRQE: 80
(Posted on Ciao! as Midwinter.)
I watched Black Swan having wanted to see it at the cinema and finally getting round to watching it On Demand last night. I love ballet and so was interested in seeing it as much for the environment the story is set in as the actual drama.
I was honestly captivated for the entire film. Natalie Portman is quite simply stunning as the ambitious young ballerina desperate to dance the role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. She is a sensitive and shy young woman who is bullied by the main protagonists in her life. She lives with her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) , a woman who was forced to give up her own ballet career as a result of becoming pregnant with Nina and who is now living her failure through her daughter's success.
She is bullied by the choreographer of Swan Lake, Thomas, a sinister character played superbly by Vincent Cassell ,both in and out of rehearsal, as he tries to find the darker side of Nina so she is able to dance the Black Swan. She is also bullied by Lily, a new dancer brought in who Nina believes is trying to take over the Swan Queen role.
As we follow the progress of her perfecting her performance, so she slowly descends into madness, imagining demons everywhere. The director draws us in to her world so completely that we sometimes don't know what is real or imagined just like Nina herself. Watching some of the darker scenes makes for uncomfortable viewing, almost voyeuristic in the way we observe her torment. Some of the scenes are quite simply shocking. However as the denouement approaches we are swept along with the beauty of the dancing on the outside which offers a stark contrast to the horror that exists inside Nina's head. Set to the background of Tchaikovsky's stunning score for Swan Lake it is a simply breathtaking piece of film making.
This film richly deserves the awards and plaudits given to it. I was completely engrossed in it from start to finish.
golferinfr's Full Review: Black Swan (2011)
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.
Soon as this movie comes into your view, you can smell the tension in the air. Nina Sayers is a up and coming ballet star by night, spoiled mommy's girl by day. She strives at being the best that the New York Opera company, has all the fundamentals, but lacks the passion in her moves. I think from my own perspective that they could of deleted Winona Ryder's role because it really didn't make any sense. She was no-one's role model and the 4 minutes of breaking up her room to the hospital scenes really had no significance in this movie.
Barbara Hershey, please stay away from the knife. Anymore nipping and tucking you're going to get the Joan Rivers Award for "I can't feel my face move as I talk". Being the over possessive and jealous mother you can tell her elevator doesn't go to the top floor in this role. You could never catch the right age for Nina because you never really see the adult in her and by then it's far to late. Her fate has been clustered by the demons in her mind and with her mother launching out a full stalkers attack on her own daughter really makes you wonder if anyone in the movie has a clear head.
With Lily coming into the picture Nina has this feeling of being underminded for her first seat position of Swan Lake and begins tensing up. Thomas tries to get Nina in the sack with him after choosing her and Nina freezes up like a Wendy's Chocolate Frosty. I saw just traces of the movie 9 1/2 weeks in here when Thomas tells her to go home and find your release. The next morning scene I about fell out of my chair as she turns over and her mom is in the chair after a 3 stars masturbating scene, that was so funny. I can't believe this movie won all those awards. Granted the story plot was Good at best, the musical score was very well put together in the right places. I thought the dance scenes between Nina and Lily was hotter than their lesbian bed scene.
But finally she realizes it all, everyone is out for their ownselves. Her mom right there to take credit of pushing her baby girl all the way to the top. Lily getting the nod to be Nina's alternate if anything were to happen. Thomas getting his satisfaction except for the one he wanted most; and all it does is take sex from Lily to get what they both wanted. The last half hour I will leave unto you to watch as Nina snaps.
Overall this movie received too much hype and by far not movie of the year. I can see Natalie Portman getting Actress of the Year, but you have to ask yourself who was the real sane person in this one. I give this one 3.5 stars
Vincent Cassel - Thomas
Barbara Hershey - Erica Sayers
Mila Kunis - Lily
Natalie Portman - Nina Sayers
Winona Ryder - Beth
Rated R Run Time 1 hr 40 minutes.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age
"We all know the story. Virginal girl, pure and sweet, trapped in the body of a swan. She desires freedom but only true love can break the spell. Her wish is nearly granted in the form of a prince, but before he can declare his love, her lustful twin, the black swan, tricks and seduces him. Devastated the white swan leaps of a cliff killing herself and, in death, finds freedom."
FILM ONLY REVIEW
"Black Swan" is the story of the production of a new version of "Swan Lake". Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) needs a dancer to play the joint roles of the black swan and the white swan. He settles for Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), who, although an accomplished and polished performer seemingly born to play the White Swan, lacks the necessary emotion to convey the passionate, sensual Black Swan.
The lines between fantasy and reality become dangerously blurred as Nina attempts to discover her inner Black Swan in time for opening night. Into this volatile mix steps Lily (Mila Kunis) who seems to have all the confidence and sexual freedom Nina lacks. Nina's jealousy towards the girl reaches uncontrollable levels when the manipulative producer, seemingly attracted to this new rival, casts her as understudy.
Nina is forced to confront the dark side of her psyche as the pressure seems about to tip this already vulnerable and emotionally fragile girl over the edge. Pushing herself mentally and physically to the limits, Nina reaches the limits of her own sanity as her desperation to succeed drives her closer to madness. This seems to be a case of life imitating art and, when the art in question is "Swan Lake", it seems unlikely there will be a happy ending.
It is a truly incredible performance from Portman who, like the character she plays, seems to push herself to the limit during filming, losing 20 pounds, performing with a fractured rib and doing many of the grueling dance sequences herself. She utterly immerses herself in the role and at times it is difficult to remember she is acting. Nina is an emotionally damaged ballerina who appears to already struggle with issues of self-harm and it appears that this added pressure will be too much for her to cope with.
Black Swan is an intensely visual film that concentrates as much on the physical demands as the mental. We see it all in graphic detail; the self-harming tendencies, the deformed toes, the cracked toenails, the blood, plus a lot more that may or may not be the product of Nina's overwrought imagination.
The camera echoes Nina's mental turmoil; pirouetting, spinning and dangerously out of control. Through clever camera angles, we see the world as she sees it; isolating and terrifying. Black shadows threaten to take over the screen, paintings bleed and laugh at Nina, mirrors take on a life of their own. At times this resembles a horror-film, but the question remains whether the demons are all of Nina's own making.
The two characters with the most profound effect on Nina's life are the ballet's director, the lecherous producer Thomas, and her infantilizing mother Erica (Barbara Hershey). These two are pulling in opposite directions; Thomas to turn her into the sexual adult he needs for the ballet, Erica to keep her a child forever.
It is a terrific performance from Hershey. Like so many characters, it is unclear what her motives are. On the surface, she seems a loving yet over-protective mother. It is clear, however, that something is wrong; it just doesn't feel right. Nina's bedroom, kept in a perpetual childlike state, feels more like a claustrophobic cell than a cosy retreat. It is revealed that Erica gave up her own career for her daughter, though whether jealousy or a desire for her to succeed are the motives for her strange actions is debatable.
"I got a little homework assignment for you. Go home and touch yourself. Live a little"
Cassel is perfect in his role as the sleazy director, manipulating and controlling his dancers with skill and ruthlessness. He based his character partly on co-founder of the New York City ballet, who he describes as a "control freak, a true artist using sexuality to direct his dancers". He prowls around the set, terrifying, transfixing and intimidating his dancers.
"Everything Beth does comes from within. From some dark impulse. I guess that's what makes her so thrilling to watch. So dangerous. Even perfect at times, but also so damn destructive"
Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) is Leroy's previous protégé and the resultant damage is clear for all to see. It is a brief cameo, but Ryder's performance is brilliant, a stark warning for Nina of what is to come.
Rival dancer Lily is another character with ambiguous motives. Nina sees her as a threat, maybe even as the real personification of the Black Swan. The script, and Nina's altering perceptions, force Kunis into playing several different personalities, but she is more than equal to the task. The viewer can never be quite sure whether this sexually confident, unrestrained performer is out to help Nina or destroy her. Their scenes together crackle with sexual tension.
Black Swan is certainly not a movie for everyone, and although it has received a huge amount of critical acclaim, this has not been universal. Like the ballet it centres around, it is extravagant, powerful, visceral, melodramatic and almost unbearably dark. Like Nina's stretched and abused ligaments, it takes credulity to breaking point. It is best to enjoy the visual feast on offer without thinking too much about the believability of the unfolding drama.
Made as a companion piece to "The Wresteler" (Director Darren Aronofsky originally envisioned making a film about a ballerina falling in love with a wrestler), it straddles a number of genres, occasionally straying into the realm of horror. There is a deliberate discordant feel which makes it occasionally difficult to watch, a wonderful soundtrack combining Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" and the Chemical Brothers only adding to this tense, uneasy atmosphere.
The themes of the movie rely upon the obsessive quest for perfection and the loss of control. Nina is technically close to perfect but lacks the passion and the inner-fire to make her a true great.
"Perfection is not just about control. It's also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience"
Her journey to become the dancer Leroy craves takes her on a journey that tests her sanity and provides the audience with a visual and emotional treat.
"Black Swan" deals with adult issues including self-harm, drug taking, lesbianism and masturbation. Not only is this entirely unsuitable for children, I would not recommend it for more sensitive viewers, particularly those who would object to the depiction of mental illness in such a way.
Excellent pretty much universally, 8.4/10 on IMDB.com and 79/100 on Metacritic.
21 January 2011
A deserved Oscar win for Portman (leading actress) plus nominations for Cinematography, Directing, Editing and Motion Picture of the Year
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
Fairly new film so still widely available in shops and still quite pricey - £8 to £10 on Amazon. Well worth it though.
"Black Swan" is a truly magnificent film featuring fine performances all round, wonderful, atmospheric directing, a top sound track, and a decent script. Dark but beautiful like the ballet it is based on, this is a memorable film that I would highly recommend to film fans. You certainly don't have to like ballet to enjoy being immersed in this strange, surreal world. It truly is a work of art.
"The final act. Your final dance! You've tasted your dream. Touched it! Only to have it crushed. Your heart is broken. Wounded! Your life force fading. The blood drips. The black swan stole your love! There is only one way to end the pain. You're not fearful, but filled with acceptance! And you look down at Rothbart and then at the Prince. And then yes, and the audience! And then you jump!"
FILM ONLY REVIEW
'Black Swan' was one of the most talked about films when it first came out, on par with 'The Kings Speech' in the film nomination awards, yet it just did not appeal to me. I have seen a few films which follow dancing, and although I am not a dancer myself, nor do I take any interest in dancing, I have found myself enjoying them, though there was just something about this film which did not appeal to me. This is the reason why it has taken me a while to actually watch it, and I only ended up doing so as I was at a loss of what to do and watch!
So, what did I think of it?
I JUST WANT TO BE PERFECT
"The only person standing in your way is you."
Nina (Portman) is a ballerina living in New York City and attending the local ballet company. Her life, like those in her profession, is completely consumed with dancing and she strives to be the best, to be perfect. Living with her obsessive former ballerina mother Erica (Hershey) who exerts a suffocating control over her, and fighting to impress artistic director Thomas Leroy (Cassel), Nina's life is not as perfect as she strives for.
When Leroy announces that he is going to replace prima ballerina, Beth, (Ryder) for the opening of the new and improved Swan Lake, Nina soon becomes his first choice, though Nina is not without competition as new dancer, Lily (Kunis) steps up to the mark and seems prepared to go the extra length in which Nina simply can not seem to do. Nina plays a perfect part as the White Swan, though can she pull off the other side of the Swan and learn to become the Black Swan in time before Lily grabs the role from under her feet?
The White Swan contains all the innocence and grace which Nina holds, though the Black Swan, with all its guile and sensuality is suited perfectly for Lily, and as the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina gets more in touch with her dark side which becomes so reckless that it soon threatens to destroy her.
I have to admit that it took me quite a while to actually get into the film. The beginning, to me, came across as severely slow and almost lost my attention a couple of times, yet there was something there which continued to pull me in. I could not put my finger on it at the beginning, and it was not until the end that I realised that the slowness was extremely important in the transition of the film and characters. Along these same lines, there were a large number of moments throughout the film which left me feeling rather confused and lost. Although I was able to figure out many of these moments to a degree, it is not until the very end that everything comes into clarity. I have seen a few different films which leave you really in the dark until the end, and not many have held my attention long enough to actually reach the conclusion, though as already mentioned, there is just something about this film which draws you in almost immediately, and once the ending is upon you, and everything becomes a lot clearer, you will be on the edge of your seat in anticipation. (More about the ending below).
The storyline as a whole was quite simple, yet the complexity of the dramas within the main characters mind gave it much more depth and kept the storyline alive with tension and anticipation. The genre of the film is a wide mixture of drama and mystery mixed with some deep thriller moments. One particular theme which runs through the film is the transformation from the White Swan to the Black Swan. This, in my opinion, is performed absolutely brilliantly, though like mentioned above, it is not completely clear until later on in the film. Not only does this film show the alteration of the Swans through the Swan Lake story of the dance performance, it also falls strongly upon the main character who both strives to change her dance style and life style to compensated for the Swan difference as well as unknowingly changing her whole persona from the light to the dark side. The whole feel of the film changes dramatically from beginning to end to represent the one change which is reciprocated in everything that happens in the storyline. To begin with, this is not easily seen, though when everything comes together, you realise what an amazing piece of writing this film has.
One aspect in which I feel important to mention as I did not realise the severity of the situation before I watched this film, is the sexual content. Apparently, this was quite well known to those who were really wanting to watch this film, though for those who have no real idea of what it is about, beware! This film is certainly NOT for children (mirrored in the rating of R). Although the scenes show a minimal amount of nakedness, what is implied alongside the real life acting portrays immense graphical scenes which include such things as masturbation (hidden, yet very obvious), conversations of sexual acts, two women performing sexual acts on one another and so forth. As you can see, this film holds a huge amount of adult content and so those who do not like films such as this may wish to stay away from Black Swan. Having said this, though, the scenes for what they are, are performed tremendously and the hidden aspects of each graphical scene creates much more of a sophisticated feel to it opposed to anything pornographic. I do admit that some parts did make me feel a little uncomfortable, though it did fit well within the storyline and the characters involved took their roles very seriously and so in some unusual way, it almost had a reassuring feel to it.
With regards to adult content, I should also mention that there are a lot of other scenes which are only really suitable for adults. There is a high amount of blood and violence within the whole story, which made me cringe a couple of times as I can be very squeamish! Not only is their violence upon another person, there are also scenes on self harm which some may want to avoid. Coarse Language is also used highly throughout the film, and at some points I felt as though it was overused. This is often the way in films, where they seem to think that as it is an adult story, the use of profanity is needed. I admit that in some scenes, it sat well, though in about fifty percent of the story, I feel it did not need to be there. Due to the thriller status of the film, expect some frightening or intense scenes. I would say that the latter is more to the point in this film as I did not feel scared at all, yet the feel of intensity was extremely high throughout the most of the film.
The settings are almost perfect and sit in sheer comparison to the characters within the story, highlighting the gritty lives of each character amid the shiny settings both on the stage and in Nina's life. The world that these characters inhabit really help set the scene of both story and characters and the backstabbing and two-faced nature is mirrored in the scenes through each characters mind. It really feels as though you are part of this world - it feels so real throughout! The camera work took a while to get used to, especially with the filming of people's heads and the shaking lens at certain points, though in the end this too added to the suspense and drama of the film.
The ending is always a very important factor in a film in my opinion, as if the film is great yet the ending is a let-down, I always feel robbed and do not feel that it was worth my time watching it.
So how does the ending of this film compare?
The ending is what made this film for me. The suspense and drama continued to great heights right up until the end and everything unravelled in such a spectacular fashion that it literally left me breathless! The way the ending was wrapped up gave a whole new sense to the film as a whole and left me thinking about it for hours afterwards.
I had a few theories of what might happen at the end, though nothing could prepare me for the amazing conclusion. I think that it was due to the ending that I came to love this film.
This film was directed by Darren Aronofsky, who has directed such other films as 'The Wrestler' though I have never seen any of his listed films so am unable to compare his work. The writing was split between three different people; Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin. None are really known to me, and neither are their other projects. According to IMDB Heyman has only written a short before writing Black Swan, though worked as a co-producer with Aronofski on previous films. Heinz and McLaughlin are also little documented on IMDB, and their few additions are not ones I have ever heard of.
The cast list is a reasonably large list, though in reality, the main cast list is actually quite small. There are a number of well known names in the list which is possibly one of the reasons that many originally went to see it, and I am glad to say that they do not fail to bring something great to their parts.
The main cast list includes;
Natalie Portman ... Nina Sayers
Mila Kunis ... Lily
Vincent Cassel ... Thomas Leroy
Barbara Hershey ... Erica Sayers
Winona Ryder ... Beth Macintyre
Benjamin Millepied ... David
Ksenia Solo ... Veronica
Kristina Anapau ... Galina
Janet Montgomery ... Madeline
Portman actually won an Oscar for her lead role in Black Swan and in my opinion, she thoroughly deserved it. Her acting skills really shone through and proved that she had high diversity in her role as both the White Swan and Black Swan. I was not sure at first, with her White Swan role coming across as over-timid, though when compared with her other side, you can really see why she won the award. It has been a while since I have seen an actor play two sides of a coin in the same film with such grace and fire.
Although Kunis has appeared in a number of films and television shows, I can not personally remember any of her performances, though she certainly stood out in Black Swan. Her on-screen relationship with Portman's character was amazing and really bought out the opposing side of the Swan perfectly without any over-acting involved.
Cassel brings an amazing performance to his role of Leroy, a role which seems to fit him perfectly. In some ways, it feels as though he leads the way for the other actors with his strength of character and great screen presence. When he walks into the room, all eyes are on him (though for some, all eyes are on him for other reasons opposed to his acting!).
I hardly even recognised Hershey as the obsessed, over-protective mother of Nina, with her hair tied back and her face like thunder, yet her performance was certainly not all straight laced as she bought in a whole new sense of fear. She was a character that you will love to hate, though you could certainly not hate her acting in this fearless role.
A surprising role for Ryder, though one which shows her diversity as an actor. Ryder, like Hershey, was barely recognisable in a completely different role to what I had expected her to play, though a role which bought out her great side. Perhaps not the best performance I have seen of her, though she certainly pushed the boundaries. She (with three others in the film) were nominated for the best ensemble for the COFCA Award, though did not win unfortunately.
You can certainly see that Millepied is classically trained in ballet as his moves are simply spectacular, and that is coming from someone who does not even really like ballet! Through his dance moves, his character shines, though without his dancing, I feel that his character was a little stale.
Solo was certainly above average in Black Swan, though I felt as though she did not have enough material to work on to her full extent, whereas Anapau certainly makes the most of her smaller role and owns the stage every time she appears. Montgomery is somewhere in between these two actors in her role, though none of them stand out as terrible in the slightest, and if anything, their smaller roles push the bigger roles further into the spotlight.
There are many other smaller cast members, as well as many extras within this film, and all seem in the right place and seem to know what they are doing. None stand out at all as the wrong choice for their character, no matter how big or small their role is.
So what was my overall opinion of the cast?
I absolutely love the cast of Black Swan. There are a few negative feelings on occasion of certain actors characterisations and such like, though overall, ever cast member within this film seems just right, even those who I was surprised to see play a certain role. With the cast list against the storyline, this film could never have failed.
From someone who did not really want to watch this, I can safely say that I really enjoyed the film. At times, the confusion did get a little annoying and the adult content became too much in certain instances, though once the film drew to a close and everything became clear, I understood why things were the way they were, and realised that I had actually enjoyed it. If the ending had have been different, then perhaps it would not have been such a hit, though as mentioned above, the ending really made this film.
On buying the DVD, though, I am not sure. I did love the film; though do not know whether I loved it enough to buy the DVD of it myself. If you do wish to purchase the DVD, you can find it on Amazon for £9.97 (£16.93 on Blueray).
Runtime: 108 min
the edge of your seat in anticipation. (More about the ending below).