Film Review – Black Swan

Black Swan (MA)

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel

Five stars

Review by: Julian Wright


The road to achieving perfection is a nightmarish, blood spattered journey bubbling with paranoia, tension, horror and haunting images. You may even break a nail or two. The intensity of the journey may force you to cover your eyes at crucial moments.

I hope for director Darren Aronofsky’s sake he did not have to go through the same horrifying trip goody two shoes ballet dancer Nina Sayers went through to create his perfect movie. Lucky he didn’t cover his eyes and cower from such a challenging project because what he has created is a multi-layered masterpiece dripping with metaphors that may prompt multiple viewings and drawn a career defining performance from typically lightweight Natalie Portman.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) has been killing herself for years under the guidance of sleazy but brilliant studio director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), developing her technique and turning her body into the perfect tool to express her art. We witness her morning ritualistic preparations and feel every bone crack and split toe nail. She has been working her way to scoring her dream role – the Swan Princess in her ballet company’s version of Swan Lake. It is hard to tell if her drive is her own or influenced by her ex-ballet dancer mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), who babies Nina and keeps her room packed with stuffed toys and lined with pink wall paper.

When veteran dancer Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) is bumped from the plum role for being too old, Nina begins feeling the pressure to be the best to get the role she has longed for. Nina secures the role but leaves Thomas constantly in doubt as to whether or not she can pull off the role of the evil and seductive  Black Swan that requires frothy sexuality – something the child like Nina lacks. He already knows she is perfect as the delicate White Swan. Nina struggles with getting in touch with that dormant side of her personality and as the premiere date gets closer, she gets the nagging feeling that new girl Lily, who exudes her sexuality effortlessly, is gunning for the lead role.

There are so many delicious layers to this tale; on the surface it is a behind the scenes look at the ballet industry. But look closer and it is one character’s journey of self discovery as she blooms (albeit belatedly) from a girl into a woman, learns to leave her inhibitions at the door for the sake of her art and achieves her idea of perfection.

And Aronfosky tells the complex story as a full throttle horror/thriller that rivals 100 Saw sequels. Never before have fleeting images of brief horror and self mutilation been able to set its audience so close to the edge of their seat or so easily crawl under their skin and wreak havoc.

If horror is not for you then you are treated to the pleasure of watching Portman transform as a performer on screen as her character does. Not only does she capture the duality of Nina Sayers, but also pulls off the self doubt and self deprecation in between. She has been deservedly showered with praise and award nominations because it would have been one of the most difficult roles for a young actress to pull off convincingly.

Starting the new year with a perfect film is a thrill and raises the bar impossibly high for the rest that are due to follow in 2011. I just hope other film makers strive for this level of perfection.

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