Review: Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan begins with a dream. A dancer bathed in the light takes center stage and performs a haunting scene from Swan Lake that serves as a metaphor for the remainder of this Darren Aronofsky film.

The dreamer is Nina Sayers (played by Natalie Portman), a New York City ballerina. Nina meticulously strives for perfection in her technique and appearance, no matter the cost to her body or her sanity. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) plans a re-imagination of Swan Lake, Nina lands the role of the Swan Queen and replaces the aging prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder).

Nina perfectly encompasses the White Swan but it is the imperfect and sensual Black Swan that is harder for her to perform. This is because Nina is very much a child. She wakes in her childhood bedroom and lives under the gaze of her controlling mother (Barbara Hershey). She has never experienced love or sex or freedom. Her life is dictated by the rigorous demands of performance. When she begins a twisted real and unreal relationship with Lily (Mila Kunis), a tattooed dancer in the company, Nina discovers the darkest depths of her being.

Black Swan emphasizes the great lengths ballerinas go to perfect their craft. The female form is explored in all its stages from that of the young ingénue to the aged, wrinkled instructor. No trace of the dancer’s body is left unscathed or is not finely manicured. Aronofsky pays close attention to this detail. Shots of feet, legs, hands, arms, backs, torsos that are bloodied, broken, and beaten down beyond real repair brings a gritty realism to this psychological thriller.

Above all, it is the psychological demands of performance that drive Black Swan. The more Nina delves into the role, the more Thomas uses sex to direct her, the more the competitive nature of the craft eats away at Nina, the more Nina loses control. A constant use of mirrors and windows reflects Nina’s image and her weakening psychological state. At times, her reflection merges with Lily’s as she becomes more like this dancer and is pushed to the brink.

Nina’s battle is not with her mother, Thomas, or the other dancers. It is with her dark alter ego, the vision that haunts her in every mirror after every pirouette. At first she cannot handle or accept her alternative self; this self wants her to experience sex, drugs, frivolity. Her body breaks down; it begins to transform beyond her control.

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is one of the more visually stunning and thought-provoking films I have seen in recent memory. It is a film drenched in symbolism where the smallest details matter most. Portman and Kunis tackle the physically demanding roles of ballerinas with grace and apparent ease. Their performances are rich and haunting. Nothing more so than the final moments when Nina accepts her darker self as her true self, she becomes alive. She achieves the perfect performance and she breaks free.

New Trailer For Black Swan: Enter Winona

The release of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan tomorrow cannot come soon enough. As the hype surrounding this movie builds, Natalie Portman continues to be shortlisted as a potential Best Actress Oscar nominee.

Until then here is the latest trailer unveiled by Fox Searchlight. It is filled with additional footage not seen in the previous trailer, including some scenes of Winona Ryder’s Beth McIntyre, the ballerina who Portman’s Nina Sayers’ replaces.

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Trailer Fix: Black Swan and The King’s Speech

I’m not going to make it to the movies this weekend, which is a bummer since The Milennium Triology is playing in Boston and I want to check out the films in a theater. (Even though I hate the books.)Instead, here are two upcoming releases that are definitely going to draw some interest this awards season: Darron Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Tom Hopper’s The King’s Speech.

In Black Swan, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis play ballet dancers in a production of Swan Lake. Nina (Portman) is the White Swan and Lily (Kunis) is the Black Swan. These roles take over their lives as Nina begins to channel the darker aspects of her personality. The trailer, embedded below, is twisted and intriguing, which is exactly what I would expect from an Aronofsky production. The psychological thriller premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it had a strong opening. Black Swan has been described the nightmarish aspects of The Red Shoes. I’m there.

Black Swan releases December 3.

The King’s Speech won the People’s Choice award at the Toronto Film Festival. Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and a non-Bellatrix Lestrange Helena Bonham Carter it is the kind of movie critcs love: a historical film drenched in the drama of the Royal Family. The film centers around King George VI’s ascension to the throne and the stammer he had to overcome. (Royals with problems! How endearing!) Firth plays George VI and Rush is Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, who helped the future king overcome his stammer and successfully address the Australian parliament. Knowing Firth, Rush and Carter, the performances will hopefully be great fun to watch.

The King’s Speech releases November 26.

Top Five: Reasons to See The Wrestler

1. In the ’80s, Mickey Rourke was both a successful leading man and a certifiable sex symbol. But his personal life overshadowed his career and by the ’90s Rourke had become a has-been and a punchline. That is, until now. In Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, Rourke portrays washed up professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson, who is given one last chance at life and love. Rourke is mesmerizing; he delivers a fun, passionate and poignant performance that sticks with you. This is the comeback of the year.

2. A film about professional wrestling seems like it would be the perfect plot for a Will Ferrell movie. Yet The Wrestler is a powerful, heartbreaking and beautifully crafted drama that takes the audience into a world unlike any other. It is an intense and graphic look at a culture where everyone is clinging to failed dreams.

3. Marisa Tomei plays Pam, a stripper who has captured Randy’s heart. Tomei’s performance is the glue that holds The Wrestler together, providing a sense of wisdom when Randy is completely lost.

4. Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child o’ Mine” is featured as The Ram’s anthem before his last turn in the ring. Axl Rose provided the song for free because of the film’s low budget. Likewise, Bruce Springsteen provided an original song, “The Wrestler”, for free. The opening line, “Have you ever seen a one trick pony in the field so happy and free?/ If you’ve ever seen a one trick pony then you’ve seen me,” is a testament to the heart and soul of this film.

5. Frankly, The Wrestler is the year’s best film. It might be less fantastical than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, not as hyped as Slumdog Millionaire, not based on actual events like Frost/Nixon or The Reader and lacking the biopic angle like Milk, but The Wrestler has more passion than any of these films. It is a film not to be missed.

Published: January 29, 2009
The Mount Holyoke News