Skip to content

Black Swan (2010) ****

December 1, 2010


Written by: Mark Heyman (screenplay), Andres Heinz (screenplay and story), and John J. McLaughlin (screenplay)

Produced by: Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, and Brian Oliver

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Rated R for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use

103 mins

U.S. Release Date: December 3, 2010

Director Darren Aronofsky has explored many themes throughout his film career from drug-use or time travel, to the pains of growing old or loving the thing that hurts you most.  Aronofsky is a very Danny Boyle-esque director in the sense that he is constantly reinventing himself in his films.  In Black Swan, the main character deals with paranoia, self-confidence issues, and a troubled past.  In the seldom-explored world of professional ballet, Aronofsky delivers a fully immersive experience that focuses in one character as she navigates through a highly competitive and pressure-filled world.  Often times, Aronofsky straddles the line between the real world and imagination (see The Fountain or Pi), and Black Swan is no exception.  Especially during the Holidays, most audiences are looking for mindless entertainment.  Can the twists, turns, and subtext of Black Swan thrive in a world of “the mindless”, or will Aronofsky’s artistic statements get muted by his blockbuster competitors?




Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina in a New York City ballet company and her life revolves completely around dance.  Everyone she interacts with in her daily life is consumed with dance, and it further embeds Nina in this world.  Her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), who Nina still lives with, is a former ballerina who gave up her career when she had her baby, and she now lives vicariously through Nina’s career achievements.  Erica controls her daughter and pampers her in order to “help her be successful” (it’s a very creepy relationship).


When the company’s director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace the world-renowned ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the upcoming season’s production of Swan Lake, Nina is the clear frontrunner for the role of The Swan Queen.  However, Lily (Mila Kunis), a new dancer to the company, impresses the director as well. The role of The Swan Queen is two-fold: it needs a dancer who can play both the White Swan and the Black Swan.  The White Swan represents purity, structure, and grace, while the Black Swan represents cunning, unruliness, and sensuality.  The dancer that plays The Swan Queen must fully encompass both facets of the character.  Nina, a standard in prudence, falls perfectly into the role of the White Swan while Lily, a riotous wild child, is the embodiment of the Black Swan.  As the two young dancers transition their contentious relationship into a warped alliance, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side, an uncharted wilderness that is sure to bring her ruin.



Much like in Aronofsky’s previous film, The Wrestler, the cinematography in Black Swan features camera work that accentuates realism and draws the viewer closer.  With many over-the-shoulder shots, audiences get the feeling of living in Nina’s shoes as she embarks on this event in her life.  In addition to scenes outside of the ballet, the camera work and editing during the dancing sequences is amazing, even Oscar-worthy.  During the on-stage ballet sequences, it looks as if a one of the ballet dancers is wearing a helmet cam while maintaining over-the-shoulder shots of the focal points.  You, as the viewer, are thrown into Nina’s world and will feel as though you are participating in the ballet yourself.  It really is amazing work by the camera crew.


The work of the entire cast is incredible in this film, on top of great material.  From Portman, down through Cassel and Kunis, every actor executes their role so convincingly that you never get “the ripcord effect” (poorly-done elements that “pull you out of a movie”) so you can just sit back and fall deeply into the world the film portrays.  Natalie Portman should and will receive an Oscar nomination for her role as Nina, who exhibits such a wide spectrum of emotions, and a massive metamorphosis as the film progresses.  I was pretty surprised at Mila Kunis’s well-done performance in this film as well.  Not that I thought she was a bad actress before, but the role of Lily is easily the most intense she has ever played.  As the MacGuffin of this film, Kunis plays the quintessential siren that threatens to ruin everyone’s world around her… just for fun.



The impeccably performed characters and the technical prowess of Black Swan can be followed up to one person, which is the director of this production.  Darren Aronofsky obviously knows how to direct his acting talent to receive the highest quality output for his vision, and he understands how to use his equipment to better tell a story than by textbook framing and camera placement.  It’s no wonder why Aronofsky is beginning to land major Hollywood directing jobs, much like the career path of Christopher Nolan, as he has shown that he can excel at storytelling, as well as stretch a dollar.



While Black Swan will absolutely leave you contemplating the plot resolutions and second-guessing if what you saw was really what you saw, this movie is completely worth seeing.  You will witness some of the finest acting performances of the year, as well as amazing technical achievement with a camera, especially during the dance sequences.  If you take a roughly two-hour departure from the Holiday fluff movies and explore some new territory, you will not regret it.  Unless some internal Hollywood politics get in the way, you will most definitely see Black Swan up for some big year-end awards.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Lauri permalink
    December 25, 2010 7:28 pm

    I saw Black Swan today. Your sentence “…Black Swan will absolutely leave you contemplating the plot resolutions and second-guessing if what you saw was really what you saw…” describes my experience perfectly. What was real? What was imagination? The performances were brilliant. The movie was both beautiful and ugly at the same time. I was mesmerized and creeped-out. It was a WTF movie, but not necessarily in a bad way. It’s going to take me a while to process what I saw. And as you said, is what I saw really what I saw.


  1. Announcement: The 2011 Academy Awards Nominations List « Keeping It Reel
  2. The Top Ten Films of 2010 « Keeping It Reel
  3. New on DVD & Blu-ray (03-29-11) « Keeping It Reel

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: