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Review: Black Swan

Tuesday 01 February 2011
Words Spindle

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Cast: Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder

I don’t know why I was not prepared. I had seen the trailer, read the reviews, anticipated the genre: ‘psychological thriller’. Even though I was expecting a dark and twisted tale of tragedy and morbid obsession, I assumed, somewhat naively, that the gothic horror potential around the subject of ballet, would be, limited.

Unbeknown to me, by the end of the film I would have suffered several panic attacks (after witnessing Winona Ryder stab herself in the face I may never recover) and can honestly conclude that Black Swan is one of the most ‘frightening’ films I have sat through in well, years. Observing Portman in a tutu lulled me into a false sense of security, I will admit, I had been blinded by reviews tagging the movie as ‘artsy’ when in all honesty the film prides itself on cheap thrills; it is its alignment with the classic Swan Lake that gives it substance and beauty, mix this up with some girl on girl action, transmogrification and full frontal gore = high class trash at it’s best.

Nina (played by Natalie Portman) is a young ballet dancer, battling unprecedented insecurities which are exacerbated by an overbearing mother, a manipulative lothario director and a beautiful, frivolous nemesis – whether these characters intentions are demonized through Nina’s mental state of mind are unclear; throughout the film what is real and unreal remains ambiguous, which allows the audience to empathise with the leading lady, a relationship that doesn’t falter ever when her borderline schizophrenia is realised.

For Nina to succeed in her role as black swan she is advised by her director to ‘let go’ of the prim perfection that makes her so perfect for the role of Swan queen. She unhinges herself and is in turn taken over by an evil alter ego, swamped by paranoia and hallucinations which leads her to spend the duration of the film morphing, metaphorically and literally, into the menacing bird.

This film deserves the unified praise it is receiving; it is a ‘sit on the edge of your seat’ thriller, a ‘hide behind your hands’ horror whilst maintaining elements of beauty, though not enough to leave it stranded pretentious. You are guaranteed to leave the cinema with a nervous disposition, a slight fear of ambition and admiration of Portman’s conviction as a member of the New York City Ballet.