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Arts in Review

Film Review: Black Swan

Director Darren Aronofsky is not shy when it comes to torturing the characters in his movies, as he did in Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler. His latest film, Black Swan, doesn’t hold back, showing the depths of mental torture as it asks the question, “is the journey worth the destination?”

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by Ali Siemens (Staff Writer)
Email: paul at ufvcascade dot ca

Director Darren Aronofsky is not shy when it comes to torturing the characters in his movies, as he did in Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler. His latest film, Black Swan, doesn’t hold back, showing the depths of mental torture as it asks the question, “is the journey worth the destination?”

Nina Sawyer (Natalie Portman) is a ballet dancer for a prestigious New York ballet company. Nina is a young dancer trying to prove to the company’s director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), that she should be cast in the lead role for a dark and grim take on the classic Swan Lake.

Essentially, the production is about a woman who has turned into a swan, and her evil twin – the Black Swan – seduces the White Swan’s lover and the White Swan loses her sanity and commits suicide by throwing herself over a cliff. The ballerina selected will have to play the role of both the white and black swan.

Nina struggles with living up to the role of the Black Swan, dancing day and night, yet she cannot break out of her timid, angelic self.

 At this point Aronofsky’s plot becomes typical; in pirouettes Lily (Mila Kunis), the badass ballerina who is equally as dedicated and passionate about dancing. Arguably a better choice for the lead,  Thomas’ notice of her, drives Nina  from dedication into complete obsession.

Becoming obsessed with perfecting her “dark side” (no Sith was present in this movie), and with pressure from her overbearing mother, Nina’s mental and physical state take a turn for the worse. Beginning with a cracked toenail, Nina begins her breakdown. She begins seeing things, hearing things, and even imagining a lesbian romance scene with Lily – hot. 

Aronofsky deserves a pat on the back for the technical aspect of his film. Although the characters are typical, the scenes of Nina losing her mind convey the frightened and fragile girl perfectly. When Nina is changing costumes from White Swan to Black Swan, the dramatic special effects create a truly awing cinematic experience. Aronofsky turns Nina into a bird: with every perfectly executed movement we watch a feather appear from her arm, creating an entire wing span, depicting her dark side taking over as she fully becomes the Black Swan.

The dark and eerie film is not new in terms of depth and script. For technical reasons, pay homage to the director and go see the great camera work, editing, and powerful imagination.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Paul

    January 22, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    ***********SPOILERS BELOW**********************

    Having read yer review a few times, it was in my head going in to watch this movie. With respect, I have to disagree on a few key points. I see where you feel like the script is tired, especially at the beginning, it feels like Aronofsky is beating you over the head with obvious allusion and often directly explained concepts (how many people explain that the dancer will need a dark side?) but who cares? Soon enough we’re glad for those introductions because it allows us to see the real movie, the film within the film of life imitating art, Swan Lake is being retold bare bones by the ballet company and it is being retold by Aronofsky et al. as well. If this leads to a few blunt metaphors (and it does) blame the source material. Yeah there’s things like Lily’s black swan tattoo, duh she’s the obvious Black Swan, but check out the other things that are coloured black and white throughout the film, or the things that are coloured with both like Beth and Thomas, etc etc. Then there are the mirrors, I can’t remember one set in this movie that didn’t have an obvious mirror in it, and that’s not just so Nina can have those creepy living mirror scenes, do you think its just coincidence that it is ***SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER*** a piece of mirror that kills Nina?

    The reasons the parallel stories of the white swan and nina loosing it work so well is because of 1) the acting and 2) the excellent artistic directing, but you already nailed that in yer review, the camerawork and effects do a number on the audience and leave you feeling shaken. But back to the actors, Cassel and Kunis are excellent and Wynona Ryder is a suprize treat as the self-destructive senior-actor, beth, but let’s face it, it’s Natalie Portman in a career defining role that carries the film, nice choice Darren. Not only does she have that ballerina look about her, her conveyance of terror and confusion and innocence slowing being drained from her mind and body are nothing short of perfect, I felt queasy through the film, and not just because of the effects and camera, but because of Portman’s expression, it drew me into to Nina Sayer’s painful existence so that when the end finally comes, its with a sigh of relief as much as a tear of sadness. Oh and props to crazy mom, you nailed it.

    Overall, an excellent film, although i feel like I won’t be able to see it again soon, it’s too intense for frequent viewings. Good review Ali!

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