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Black Swan Review

Dinah’s Rating: 9/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 9.2/10
(6 ratings total)

Black Swan
is exquisite, but it is no Requiem for a Dream. Whereas Aronofsky’s earlier film was a mouth gaping tragedy, his newest picture is a mind stretching descent into madness. Both works feature key players’ journeying into complete and utter self-destruction using distinct visual and sound techniques that the director is known for. He has certainly matured, using restraint that some will appreciate and others will find a bit unexciting.  

Natalie Portman is pure perfection as Nina Sayers, the delicate, prim, and pleasing veteran ballerina. Mila Kunis portrays her rival, Lily, a daring, vivacious, imprecise dancer from California. Rarely seen but memorable Winona Ryder appears as Beth Macintyre, a retiring dancer prone to destructive fits and drinking. Vincent Cassel appears as the Swan Lake director Thomas Leroy, a hard-driving and callous lothario. But it is Barbara Hershey as Erica Sayers who is most unexpectedly on point as Nina’s mother, failed dancer, and over-bearing caregiver. She traps her child in an underdeveloped and fragile state not with an iron fist but with a desperate tenderness.

There will debate about pacing. This movie will most likely be compared to Requiem for a Dream, which had a maniacal pace. Black Swan takes its time. It doesn’t jump off the cliff in the way “Requiem” did and some will suffer in the first hour and be blown away by the second. The editing is finely detailed, dished in delectable morsels from beginning to end. Aronofsky plays with reflections, mirrors, fracturing, blurring, and of course making them move at will. A theme of defiance, freedom, purity, and destruction run throughout as displayed in texture, dream sequences, and jarring violence.

Something Aronofsky has quickly become synonymous with is brilliant and haunting film scores. He employs the highly regarded Clint Mansell once again to give his thriller distinct dramatic cues. Mansell’s previous work on Requiem for a Dream included the still popular “Lux Aeterna.” His newest is “A Swan Song (for Nina)”. It is a serene piece of music, but no rival to his premiere work. It also isn’t quite used with the adeptness I anticipated from Aronofsky. Instead of simply relying on music, he placed increasing emphasis on sound.

black swan
Keeping with its titular theme, as Nina delves deeper into her transformation the fluttering of birds’ wings are distinctly heard in the background. It’s all symbolic of course, but a worthwhile addition to each scene. As the tragedy unfolds a haunting laughter echoes and encircles Nina painfully. Her screams and the screams of her mother are like an infant being torn from its mother. These sounds delivered on the power Aronofsky consistently imparts.

Made for a paltry $17 million, Black Swan looks anything but cheap. Portman is glamorous and bejeweled in her portrayal of a ballerina, an art form most often enjoyed by high society. Sound, costuming, editing, and camera tricks are all tastefully executed. But what it makes up for in class it loses slightly in marketing. The previews hinted at a rapid and rabid sort of madness when in reality the film is deliberately and craftily paced. The runtime is filled with necessary redundancy. Each repeat viewing depicts an ever so slightly more deranged girl than before. But Nina’s journey is as precise as her character; it is not startling.

Black Swan is an appetizing and refined piece of filmmaking that independent film fans will enjoy. Because this is Aronofsky’s spin of the ballet Swan Lake, it doesn’t have the same rawness of his earlier work, Requiem for a Dream.  Nina Sayer’s ascent into womanhood and freedom is painfully and beautifully depicted with a strong supporting cast. The movie is rich in sorrow and symbolism that makes for great post-screening discussions.  

Rating: 9/10

Black Swan
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel

Other Player Affinity Reviews

Max thought: “Dinah is right. Black Swan is definitely no Requiem for a Dream; in all honesty, that’s a good thing. Where “Dream” is grit, disgust and maybe a little too indie for it’s own good, “Swan” is polished, far more refined and runs deeper when inciting a viewer’s imagination. If the film is any indication, Aronofsky’s has matured as a director in a relatively short amount of time. The cast’s dedication is on full display with Portman at it’s center, delivering a career defining role (frack you, “Star Wars” prequels), there are enough touches of horror to keep you tense. There are enough fleshed out characters to keep you engaged. There are a final 15 minutes that you are likely to replay in your head well after you’ve left the theater. It’s going less for shock value like Requiem for a Dream. Instead, Black Swan is likely to haunt you with it’s message on obsession, perfection and the consequences of pursuing our dreams at the cost of our identities.” Rating: 9/10

Steven thought:Black Swan echoes everything there is to love about both ballet and film: the passion, the elegance, the drive to create something deep and moving. Aronofsky’s film is every bit as graceful as the art form and culture it seeks to capture, but more noticeably, every bit as challenging and dark and uncomfortable. Nina’s quest to become the Black Swan, to divorce herself from the sheltered lifestyle that has wound her so tightly so she can convincingly do the Black Swan dance, is the center of the drama and as such the spotlight shines on Portman, as the film’s first image perfectly conveys. She takes the “typical” overprotected child who is rigid and naive and convinces us of Nina’s reality by taking all these attributes to her core. Her emotions are so convincing and considering that Black Swan nearly hinges on her, it can’t be understated. Aronofsky works wonderfully with his leading lady, coating all her scenes with layer upon layer of tension from horror to raw sexuality as she dangerously pursues perfection and teaches us a powerful lesson about just what that takes.” Rating: 9/10

Simon thought: “Considering the subject matter, Black Swan could be viewed as a companion piece to director Darren Aronofsky’s earlier sports drama The Wrestler, but this psychological thriller is at most the same in structure. Natalie Portman is at the center of this tale of rivalry and obsession and she is utterly transfixing. Despite her small stature she owns ever frame of this gorgeously rendered effort and with wonderful supporting work from Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey in particular as Nina’s (Portman) possessive mother the cast sends the screenplay home. The faults in this effort come from its lack of likeable characters, both in central and peripheral roles. Nina is either shy to the point of awkwardness, manipulative or flat out bitchy. This certainly mimics the mindset of many dedicated performers but I would have liked to see more of a rise and fall narrative that would allow us to invest in this protagonist as she descends into madness. In addition to a number of cheap scares, the film’s revelations become increasingly obvious towards the end as we are able to predict the outcomes of Nina’s delusions. But I digress; these are small qualms in a lavishly mounted and hauntingly beautiful production that is still easily one of the best movies of the year.” Rating: 8.5/10

Julian’s Rating: 10/10
Joseph’s Rating: 10/10

Player Affinity Composite Rating: 9.0/10 

Rating
9.2

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