Dancing in the Dark: Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan is a bleak and disturbing meditation on mental illness, show business-back stabbing, mother / daughter relationships, suppressed sexuality and self image.  Considering that director Aronofsky's last film was the equally bleak and disturbing, The WrestlerBlack Swan could easily be the former's companion piece  (note how both movies end with the main character leaping out into the abyss in slow motion).

Natalie Portman is Nina, a painfully thin, gifted dancer who has been asked to play The Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake since the company's star, Beth  (Winona Ryder) has been forced into retirement.  Nina's joy at this news is soon dampened when it becomes evident that she may not be playing with a full deck.  Suddenly the bony ballerina is seeing things, hearing things, sprouting feathers and generally going bonkers.

As the story progresses and things go from bad to worse, it may become more and more difficult for the viewer to discern what is reality and what is going on in Nina's carb starved brain.  Indeed, during the much ballyhooed sex scene between Nina and fellow ballerina, Lily (Mila Kunis), it becomes evident that not only is our gal hallucinating physical changes to her body, but also sexual congress with someone she considers a threat.

As was mentioned earlier,  Black Swan seems to mirror some of what we saw in The Wrestler.  One of the easiest comparisons would be the physical abuse that the bodies of  both brawlers and ballerinas endure to satisfy the public.  True, one crowd might be calling for blood and broken bones, while the other wants to see dance executed perfectly, but in the end it's all the same; both would sacrifice their very life to give the people what they want.

Probably one of the most fascinating aspects of  Black Swan is the way it's being embraced by fans of horror.  Aronofsky was wise to include blood-letting, special effects and creepy interludes - anything to get people into the theater to watch a film about ballet (quick, name the last film about ballet that was a box office hit. Anyone?). 

With terrific performances by all (major kudos to Barbara Hershey who plays Nina's mother), a gorgeous soundtrack of Tchaikovsky's music, and a compelling story,  Black Swan might be the one to beat this year at the Academy Awards ... well, unless that little movie about Facebook screws it all up.


Unknown said...

I haven't seen this yet, or Facebook: The Movie, but it seems like this is the movie with the most standout script and performance.

Can't wait for it to hit DVD.

Jack Veasey said...

I loved The Wrestler, but Mickey Rourke's craggy sex appeal hooked me in -- and, like most films, I didn't see it in the theater, either. I've heard nothing but raves about Black Swan, and I'll be eager to see it when it finally hits On Demand. Your review is the first I've seen to describe it clearly enough to convey what it's all about -- thanks!

Pax Romano said...

Thank you, Jack!

Anonymous said...

Just saw this today. I'm still picking my jaw off the floor.

Great review Pax. And spot on call with the film being a companion piece to the Wrestler.

Alana Noel Voth said...


I've a hunch this film will have a profound effect on me. Thank you for the review. XXOO


Prospero said...

Last film about ballet to make a box office splash: "The Turning Point." That having been said, I gave this a rave of my own over at Caliban's Revenge.

Chad Helder said...

I haven't seen the wrestler yet, and I didn't know it had the same director--I will definitely put that on my list.

Black Swan is my favorite film in recent memory--I love the way it uses themes from the horror more effectively than most supernatural horror films. I think I have a growing theory that it's really the psychology of horror that makes a horror story scary or memorable, and the supernatural really only works when it has a strong psychological foundation--obviously I still need to flesh out that theory! I loved all the doppelganger/shadow figure stuff and how that was intimately connected with her sexuality. What a wonderful monster mother--another favorite theme in horror movies!