Urban Cinefile
"This girl said to me: Why are you closing your eyes? I want to see your eyes. Men always close their eyes when they fuck me! - "  -Paul Verhoeven reminiscing
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who zealously supports her daughter’s professional ambition. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, “Swan Lake,” Nina is his first choice, but Lily (Mila Kunis) also impresses. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.

Review by Louise Keller:
As haunting as the music from Swan Lake, Darren Aronofsky’s psychological drama about obsession digs deep under our skin. Who can forget the delicate, beautiful and vulnerable features of Natalie Portman in the role of her life, as her prima ballerina Nina struggles with her dark side as she takes on her dream starring role as the Swan Queen. It is perfect casting for Portman who inhabits the tortured soul of a talented dancer whose obsession about perfection becomes possession. Dark and disturbing, this is a stunning film that delves into terrifying depths as life imitates art and the lines between reality and fantasy become blurred.

When we first meet Portman’s dedicated ballerina Nina, we can understand why Vincent Cassel’s choreographer Thomas Leroy thinks she is perfect for the role of the White Swan. But in the new visceral version of his Swan Lake production, in which he is about to launch a fresh face, he needs to be convinced that she is capable of transforming into her darker nemesis as the Black Swan. ‘Perfection is not only about control; it is also about letting go,’ he tells her. Cassel is a great choice as Nina’s Svengali who insists on no boundaries and effuses a natural sensuality into Thomas, who makes or breaks his ‘little Princesses’ at whim. The scene in the rehearsal studio in which he dismisses the male dancers and gets Nina to dance with him, is an exercise in seduction.

Not only does Portman look like a ballerina, she can dance and the ballet scenes are beautifully shot, with the focus always on Nina’s internal conflict. As her dancing rival Lily, whose personality is directly opposite to the restrained and controlled Nina, Mila Kunis is a knock out as the fun-loving, naturally raunchy dancer who tempts Nina to loosen up with sex, drugs and booze. Barbara Hershey is terrifyingly credible as Nina’s overbearing and controlling stage-mother who is living out her life through her daughter’s success. But as a new star is born, there is always another who is discarded and in the role of Thomas’ previous protégé Beth McIntyre, whose retirement is forced upon her, Winona Rider is superb.

While at first glance there may not be many similarities between Black Swan and Aronofsky’s last film The Wrestler, the themes about obsession and striving for perfection are the same. Rebellion, jealousy, paranoia and obsession are the themes and Aronofsky dares to explore the flip side of beauty, with all its ugly consequences – all in pursuit of the perfect performance.

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 2010)

CAST: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Janet Montgomery, Ksenia Solo, Barbara Hershey

PRODUCER: Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Brian Oliver

DIRECTOR: Darren Aronofsky

SCRIPT: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J. McLaughlin (story by Andres Heinz)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matthew Libatique

EDITOR: Andrew Weisblum

MUSIC: Clint Mansell


RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 20, 2011

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020