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Black Swan (Review)

Black Swan (Review)

Jan 12, 2011
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Black Swan
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller Release Date: 20/01/2011 Runtime: 108 minutes Country: USA


Director:  Darren Aronofsky Writer(s): 
Mark Heyman

Andres Heinz

John J. McLaughlin

Andres Heinz

Cast: Barbara Hershey, Benjamin Millepied, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder
Black Swan (Review), reviewed by Steph Walker on 2011-01-12T20:39:16+00:00 rating 4.0 out of5

A horrific, almost literal adaptation of the timeless ballet Swan Lake, Darren Aronofsky’s evocative thriller Black Swan tells the story of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a talented ballerina selected for the leading role in the company’s production of Tchaikovsky’s classic.

A driven perfectionist, Nina is the White Swan personified, yet ballet director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) stresses that she lacks the emotional resilience and passion that it takes to play the Black Swan. Nina’s emotional stress is perpetuated by her severe mother (Barbara Hershey), an ex-dancer who is bitter with her own failed career, while the strain of stardom is mirrored by Beth (Winona Ryder), an aging icon of the ballet company who is thrown to the curb.

During rehearsals, Nina’s role comes under threat when Lily (Mila Kunis), a natural and impulsive ballerina, joins the company. Impressed by Lily’s embodiment of the Black Swan, Thomas begins to doubt Nina’s ability to convey the pivotal duality of the role and places Lily as her understudy. Thomas also challenges Nina sexually, advancing on her and imposing the seductive nature of the Black Swan as well as his own desires.  Coupled with her determination to achieve absolute perfection, Nina is pushed to her breaking point.

While the story is told from Nina’s point of view, she is an extremely unreliable source, the original screenplay by newcomers Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin cleverly placing the viewer deep within her crumbling state of mind. The difference between what’s real and unreal becomes vague as Nina’s mind seeps into a morbid stage of psychological turmoil.  This is done effortlessly under Aronofsky’s (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) fittingly theatrical direction, who pulls at the strings so tightly, the tension becomes almost tangible. On occasion, however, Aronofsky is too heavy with the metaphors and visual interpretation of Nina’s metamorphosis, particularly those that require digital effects.

Ultimately though, Black Swan is an intensely visceral experience unlike no other. The fluid camerawork, tight editing, imposing score and stark costume design adds to the rich dramatic punch Aronofsky’s film delivers. Much like the director’s previous films, it’s not always an enjoyable watch; audiences will surely be left squirming at the sight of Nina’s mother rigorously cutting her daughter’s nails, as well as the many close-ups of the ghastly injuries ballet dancers must endure. It’s not all make-up and prosthetics, either; the scene in which Nina’s ribcage is cracked into shape after an injury is, in fact, real footage of Portman undergoing treatment for a cracked rib she sustained on set.

Such devotion to her role — for which she also lost a sickly 10kg off her slender frame and underwent 6 months ballet training prior to shooting — is what makes it Portman’s best yet. She is as compelling as she is convincing when embodying the timid and naive White Swan and the aggressive, dangerous and sexual Black Swan that gradually consumes her character. One might even say she’s perfect.

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