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Film Review – Black Swan

Black Swan Movie Review - Screenshot of Natalie Portman in film

Staring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel
Director: Darren Aronofsky

This year’s first big movie, Black Swan is directed by Aronofsky of The Wrestler fame and it shares many similarities with its predecessor. Despite its fantastical qualities, it too is shot from the perspective of the protagonist with a heavy emphasis an innate realism, with many of the scenes seen from over Nina’s shoulder. It too focuses on the life of a performer and the pressures that performer must endure in order to achieve their aspiration of the adulation of the audience. And finally, it too is overrated! You didn’t see that coming did you?

Black Swan centres on Nina (Portman) an aspiring ballet dancer who is trying to take the highly coveted lead in a new production of “Swan Lake”. The director of this new production, played brilliantly by Vincent Cassel (of Mezzaraine fame), believes that Nina is perfect for the white swan queen but questions her ability to play her counterpart, the black swan. Nina is a perfectionist, delicate and innocent, refined and craves structure, whereas the black swan role requires wildness, freedom and an absence of the confines of morality. Nina is further put under pressure from her mother who lives vicariously through her and her competition for the role, Lily (Kunis) who embodies all the qualities of the black swan. What follows is Nina’s ever increasing descent into moral ambiguity and paranoia, as the role consumes her very soul.

The production values on display here are impressive, clever moments of genius add to the tension such as Nina growing black feathers in a contorted and painful fashion or Nina’s reflection in a mirror looking back at her menacingly. These moments are scattered throughout the film and because they are not overused they retain their potency when utilised. They can be violently graphic at times for extra impact, though that point will be lost on the squeamish. In addition, the critics are quite correct to tout Ms Portman’s performance as Oscar worthy, it truly is.

So why over-rated? I could be coming across as an overtly critical pseudo intellectual for the possible tripe I’m about to sling your way but I have to say it, and stay true to the journalist Hippocratic Oath that I never took. The fact is for all the talk it’s hackneyed, it’s a Hollywood impersonation of an art movie. The story feels like something you’ve heard a thousand times before, the dualism between good vs evil, constraint vs liberalism, self vs art and its hardly new that these themes are played out through the medium of ballet.

The story is not that original, though well produced and well acted. You can see the end coming a mile before the final scene, the tragic artist consumed by her work is not by any means a new motif. Perhaps, it was never going to hit the incredibly high heights the critics had set for it. It is an overall enjoyable experience, but this film is not going to inspire you with its depth. But then again, does it really have to? If you have an interest in thrillers, film noir or ballet, go see it you will love it. For anyone else, much like its protagonist, this film is beautiful and graceful but lacks the dark depth of the elusive black swan.

Fountain News DigitalThis article was originally published in:
Fountain News Digital – March 2011 (Issue 3)

We are re-publishing all articles from our past newsletter, Fountain News Digital, and you can view all completed newsletters here. There were nine issues published in total between 2010 and 2012.

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