Black Swan - DVD Review

'Whilst Nina fights on stage to balance the innocent White Swan with the corrupted Black, Aronofsky's camera fights to control the still shots in some sort of balance with the shaky-cam work'

Darren Aronofsky's Oscar-winning drama about a ballet dancer coming to turns with her new role, Black Swan has more than a passing similarity to the director's last work, The Wrestler. Where that film spent time focusing on a character who has to reconcile his past in order to survive his present, this sees the interest rooted firmly in Nina Sayers' (Natalie Portman) current situation and climate. One could speculate that Aronofsky's next film will be a character-driven piece about someone who has to reconcile their future to be at peace with their present, completing a triplet of film's exploring the crossing influence of past, present and future lives.

If that sounds like it might describe a director with deep ambitions then rest assured that we've only just scratched the surface. Aronofsky moves the camera through Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin's script with his trademark natural feel. There are plenty of handheld shots, allowing you to experience the film from in amongst the dancers, and even street scenes of people walking have a kinetic and vibrant feel to them.

Aronofsky's style, as it was in The Wrestler, is unsettling and occasionally difficult to watch. Where in that film this method of keeping the audience on edge felt out of place, here it feels in-keeping with the themes he explores. Nina's world is shaky - literally thanks to the camerawork - and from very early on the impression that all is not right is conveyed effectively.

There's also an interest, an obsession even, within Black Swan to explore the meta-textual elements of the script. Whilst Nina fights on stage to balance the innocent White Swan with the corrupted Black, Aronofsky's camera fights to control the still shots in some sort of balance with the shaky-cam work. It goes even further. Whilst the troop perform Swan Lake, a ballet about a princess caught between two forces; one evil and one good, Nina must pick the good from the bad out of supporting cast Lily (Mila Kunis), Thomas (Vincent Cassel) and her Mother (Barbara Hershey). Even more than that though, appearing as little more than a cameo, is Winona Ryder, sadly now almost a byword for fallen Hollywood glamour: an ex-star turn lacking the turn to star in. The choice of role reflects the real world fortunes of Ryder so much that she can only be applauded for taking it on.

With her presence incidental though the really impressive turns from Cassel and Portman are allowed to shine. The Frenchman takes a role (that of company director) which could have easily lent itself to stereotype - all European suaveness and flair, flicked scarves and filthy temperaments - and imbues it with a much more human edge. Portman, Oscar-winner, is majestic and dangerous: an ageless, timeless, femme fatale whose only target initially seems to be herself. It's a beautiful piece and one that is performed with aching reverence in time to the music of horror, psychological drama and tragedy, whipped up by Aronofsky into balletic near-brilliance.

Look further...

'Unlike so many films which would like for you to watch them again, Black Swan requires it' - A Life In Equinox, 8.75/10


  1. The Wrestler didn't play here in my home town which bugged mw because I had heard it was very good. Will get it on DVD when I can find it!
    Kudos here as I'm not a big dance film fan whatsoever. I went in with trepidation but came out very impressed. The plot is good but I think for me it was Aranofsky's camera work that really made this movie.
    Up till this as well I was really cold on Portman. I didn't think much of her as an actress but she pulled one out of the bag for Black Swan. So I certainly will give credit where crdit is due all round for this movie. Far better than what I was expecting.

  2. I thought THE WRESTLER was very over-rated. It's decent but by no means the classic some people held it up to be. Think I've always quite liked Portman. Really loved BROTHERS from a couple of years ago, which she was great in.

  3. I saw this recently. Perhaps I was already too familiar with it, after reading all the reviews over the last year, but it didn't bother me either way.

  4. I'll have to see The Wrestler now and make up my own mind! It is funny how we all view and interpret movies/films so differently. I absolutely hated and loathed Super 8 and yet almost every review on blogosphere said it was wonderful and the best movie of the year. I was astounded to say the least!! Cars/2 is also being ridiculed and yet I don't think they are as bad as they are made out to be. I think there is a feeling of hating them just for the sake of it.
    Individual taste and intrepretation are funny things.

  5. Oh, I love this movie! It gets better with every viewing. And I watch it every weekend!

  6. Chris - I had the same worry but it is good enough to live up to expectations - however high those expectations might be!

    Brent - Indeed they are! Been keeping up with your SUPER 8 writing. Had high hopes for that so really hope I enjoy it more than you.

    Stevee - I'm looking forward to seeing it again, although I can't claim that that will be as soon as next weekend!