Posted by: greercn | January 21, 2011

Black Swan

Bonkers. Nuts. Bananas. Just plain crazy. All these apply to “The Black Swan” along with the descriptions of lesbian horror (albeit 1970s) and ballet melodrama. It’s weird and thoroughly enjoyable and will leave you wondering what on earth it was all about.

Successful ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman, looking very pretty) gets the role of White Swan/Black Swan in “Swan Lake”. She replaces Beth (who knew Winona Ryder was too old?) and is pushed by Erica, the stage mother from hell, played by the glorious Barbara Hershey.

This film is chock a block full of strong women. Mila Kunis plays Lily, an offbeat ballerina, who really, really wants to supplant Nina. One way to do this is to grab the attention of Vincent Cassel’s character, who impresses the viewer as a very sexy Thomas Leroy, the ballet’s director. Cassel has come on a great deal since his stunning performances in “La Haine” and “Mesrine” and he announces here that he is every bit as dangerous and fabulous in English as he is in French. I am a burbling fan, gushing at every opportunity. Please, Hollywood, cast him in everything, always!

So much here puzzles and challenges. Nina’s reflection moves at a different pace to her. Isn’t this familar from “Rosemary’s Baby”?. And her eyes go pink and her body develops sci fi metal bits. Even her subway moments are unusually full of Dadaist effects.

The dancing is really marvellous. Yes, you can tell when doubles are used for the tricky bits. But it doesn’t distract you from your enjoyment of the whole.  The endless rehearsal and physical pain are shown in astonishing detail.

As are self-harm, bulimia and the difficult relationship with food that comes with professional dancing.

Curiously, Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” was used to a very different set of effects in “Of Gods and Men”, to enhance the agonising choices made by the monks on whether to stay in Algeria or leave, knowing that staying will probably cost them their lives. In “Black Swan”, the same music is used as a soundtrack.

Still, it’s glorious and emblematic music. Anyone with the slightest cultural knowledge will glow. Ballet fans will adore the behind the scenes glimpses and music lovers will just hum and tap along.

There’s a surreal disco scene for those who like their music more modern, although this is VERY LOUD, even for people  like me who go out dancing and to pop music gigs, a lot. It’s the Chemical Brothers “Don’t Think” which is a terrific dance track.

What is director Darren Aronofsky trying to say? Who knows? Who cares? Just enjoy the ride and this is a very enjoyable ride. My companion and I both adored it.

As did the Stratford Picturehouse audience, who were mostly female. Hey, girls like dance movies more than boys do. I think we already knew that, didn’t we? The boys seemed to like it too, if only for all the pretty girls and strong women in the cast.

There are many astonishing images of mask, threat, darkness and light and colourful costume.  Natalie Portman will sweep every award available, although that is because she is so ably supported by so many strong women. It harks back to “The Red Shoes”, albeit with a modern twist by way of Polanski. But nothing before has been quite so surreal in approaching ballet.

Aronofsky’s trademark gritty and hand-held camera style serve to give this a really intimate feel. No matter how many people watch it with you, it will speak to you directly.

I will buy the DVD, if only to watch Mila Kunis grab your attention and announce that she is a star, again and again. When she is on screen, even with Portman, you can’t take your eyes off her.

See this unusual feast for the eyes and ears, while you can.



  1. […] In “Black Swan”, the same music is used as a soundtrack. … Here is the original post: Black Swan « Greercn's Blog Share and […]

  2. Finally saw it today – loved it! It’s certainly not subtle with the metaphors, but then that really helps to build the sense of claustrophobia that closes around Nina. Perfectly cast, and each character seems to be carrying their own tragedy. Intense. (Am currently downloading some Tchaikovsky from iTunes…)

    • That lack of subtlety is exactly why I don’t get the endless psychological reviews. I quite like that it leaves the viewer to imagine whether this is exhaustion or madness or just the result of obsessive pressure – or whether any of it is real at all. As you know, I am not completely convinced by Portman in this. If this and “Of Gods and Men” get more people to really listen to Tchaikovsky (and, hopefully, all the other glorious Russian composers) that’s a really good result. As lesbian horror goes, it’s not so great.

  3. My comments contain spoilers, not recommended for readers who have not seen it yet.
    I just saw the movie two days ago. I thought Thomas was interesting to look at and vaguely familiar. Until you mentioned it, I would never have made the connection to “La Haine”. In that ethnically diverse gang of outsiders, I think he was the tall Jewish fellow with very short hair. Anyway, back to Black Sawn. Although much of it made for compelling watching, I had problems with that. THe gritty hand-held camera style was hard on my eyes and made me keep looking away so as not to get a headache. And I also looked away during some of the psycho scenes. I get more squeamish as I age, and so got more than I needed of sharp objects, blood, ripped cuticles and other self-mutilations. I praise all the performances, and kick myself for not going in knowing that Winona Ryder had a supoprting role. I didn’t even recognize her and didn’t know until the credits ran! The end of the film seemed logical but I don’t want her to die! I prefer to be allowed to decide that for myself. Thank you for your articulate and entertaining review/blog, Greer!

  4. Thanks, Michael. Among my pet peeves are a)Jerky hand-held camera nonsense (when not used by students) b) Weird upper and lower case at random credits (it’s meant to look cartoony but it only achieves the level of silly? c) Bizarre psychobabble that veers to Greek melodrama and beyond. Do skip “Biutiful” if you are squeamish. Javier Bardem gives the best acting performance of the last year, but it’s harrowing to watch. For me – and I am fairly inured to violence and gore in movies.

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