‘Black Swan’: Aronofsky’s masterpiece


Black Swan (2010)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

9.5/10  R

“You know the story.” Or so you thought. In director Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller Black Swan, the classic story Swan Lake is turned into a haunting tale of deception and mystery. Like most Aronofsky films, it’s the ending that provides the metaphorical “punch in the gut”—and the directive genius delivers once again.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman in an Oscar-winning performance) is an aspiring ballet star, who lands the prestigious lead role in her esteemed company’s new version of Swan Lake. The artsy company leader Thomas (Vincent Cassel) has faith in her ability to play half of the role, the innocent White Swan. Her tougher role will be her “metamorphosis” (as Thomas puts it) into the deceitful twin—the Black Swan. Adding to the plot are Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina’s laid back competition, and Beth McIntyre (Winona Ryder), the former lead dancer, being forced to retire at the end of the season. And we can’t forget Nina’s overbearing mother, played by the fantastic Barbara Hershey.

Natalie Portman in Black Swan (2010)

Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, and winner of one (Portman’s Best Actress), Black Swan clearly won the hearts of many with multiple fascinating aspects. Clearly, acting—and especially Portman’s—plays a tremendous role in the success of this motion picture. Portman, not often the greatest character actress, comes out of her shell for the role of her—and her character’s—life. She showed great naivety and adolescence as Nina in the beginning of the film, but when Nina matured throughout the movie, Portman followed suit. Kunis is wonderful as the chill San Francisco transfer. She looks as if she is playing herself, which is probably not far from the truth. Cassel is a dud, missing his target as the “respectable” company leader, and seducer, Thomas Leroy. His accent worked well in many of the scenes, but at times it clashed with the more contemporary words, as well as the inappropriate ones.

Natalie Portman and Vincent Cassel in Black Swan (2010)

In the story, Nina lives a sheltered, childish life at home with her mother Erica, an equally unstable former ballerina. Her mother cares for her greatly, but perhaps too greatly. She ensures Nina gets sleep in her pink butterfly-décor bedroom before her performance, and has not allowed her to pierce her ears in all Nina’s twenty-some years. Nina is soft-spoken, and her demeanor is like that of a small child or a shelter dog. However, as Nina matures in her ballet, she also matures as an adult. She disposes of her stuffed toys and shatters her beloved ballerina jewelry box. She shouts at her incessant mother, “I’m not twelve anymore!” Then, it gets even deeper, but there’s no need to spoil an impeccable ending. What it creates is a tour de force, an instant classic that will forever go down as the best ballet movie in history.

Just as well as Nina’s psychological condition is important to the success of Natalie Portman, her mother’s crumbling psyche also plays a part. Near the beginning, Erica may foreshadow her relative insanity when she assures Nina, “I mean, you start getting older, there’s all this ridiculous pressure. I understand.” Being a former ballerina herself may have led Erica to the same places Nina’s mind goes. Later in the film, Erica almost disposes of a perfectly good, brand new cake—bought in celebration of Nina’s achievement—simply because Nina’s stomach was too in-knots to eat it. In the end, the truth about Erica’s mind is still not revealed, and whether or not she is the next victim to a more progressed self-inflicted insanity, we will never know.

Natalie Portman in Black Swan (2010)

Aronofsky, director of such masterpieces as The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream, and Pi, creates arguably his best work yet—being nominated for Best Achievement in Directing, the first Oscar nomination of his career. What are phenomenal are the similarities between his most notable films. The three I mentioned, plus Black Swan, all involve a character striving for personal greatness or happiness. Their struggle for personal satisfaction often ends in a dark, yet exciting, ending (it is part of the reason the film carries an “R” rating). Essentially, the case can be made that Aronofsky is the master of neo-noir, as his characters (including Nina) experience paranoia, loss of innocence, moral corruption, and fear, and his plots often begin joyous but end pessimistically in despair. Throughout the film, Aronofsky leads his cast to an incredible display of beauty, darkness, and love.

With a director as masterful as Aronofsky, symbolism lingers around every corner, making the movie much for meaningful, deep, and truly memorable than other films. One ideal example would be Aronofsky’s use of mirrors in Black Swan. Mirrors, commonplace and expected in places like ballet studios and bathrooms, are also seen throughout the movie in such spaces as the kitchen, bedrooms, fitting rooms, and living rooms.

Mirrors can represent a move forward in life and a link between the conscious and the unconscious, both of which describe the plot that follows Nina Sayers. As mentioned before, Nina progresses greatly in maturity as her ballet does, and from beginning to end there is an obvious move forward in her life. Also, as her psychological state deteriorates, we can see parts of Nina’s unconscious begin to take over her conscious. Nina’s psychology is obviously an important aspect of the thriller, and Aronofsky’s use of mirrors is just one of the minute, yet vital facets of the picture.

Natalie Portman in Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan, the metaphorical wonder that it is, uses plenty of special assets to set it apart from its fellow psycho-thrillers. Its powerful use of Tchaikovsky’s world-class composition, plus its brilliant acting, genius directing, gripping plot, and depth of symbolism lead this movie to a Best Picture nomination…sadly, it lost. Seeing this movie in theaters will forever be one of the highest points in my (quite extensive) moviegoing resume. I can’t recommend this movie enough; it is a work of art that climbs to the top of the list when it comes to psychological-thrillers. In fewer words, Black Swan is dark and graceful enough to make any viewer a lifelong balletomane—a ballet enthusiast.

10 thoughts on “‘Black Swan’: Aronofsky’s masterpiece

  1. The camera angles in this movie seemed to make you empathize with Nina even more then if it was a fixed angle. I have to say Black Swan was amazing! I can’t wait to see it again! I know that the Blockbuster Movie Pass was released earlier this month! I am really excited because the Blockbuster Movie Pass gives customers a huge selection of DVDs like Black Swan, along with thousands of TV shows and games by mail. Since it is being offered by DISH Network (who is also my employer), there are 20 channels that are included with the Movie Pass in addition to the thousands of movies and shows that you can stream to your TV or PC! Blockbuster also has many stores that you can exchange DVDs at and Blu-Rays are included! For all that, $10 per month is a great deal!

    1. I totally agree Damon! But in these economic times, $10/month is even too expensive for me. I’ll be honest about your competition, maybe it will help. I normally use Family Video to get movies when I really want them, and when Netflix offers a free month of service I take that offer and cancel after 28 days. That free month does make me consider purchasing it though, so maybe if you offered a free month (or two months, because that will steal those people from Netflix) you could get some people on board to pay, if they see how great your services are. Just trying to help out, thanks for the comment!

    1. IMy favorite movie of the past few years, at least. It was amazing how she got into that role, I’m glad she won an Oscar. Thanks for reading!

            1. I didn’t mean to take the list itself, but create my own “Favorite Actors” list! I wouldn’t take another blogger’s original work, but those sorts of posts are fun to write and I’ve yet to really discuss my favorites in a concentrated way! No worries, friend!

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