Black Swan (2010) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Black Swan (2010) Directed by Darren Aranofsky. With Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder and Mila Kunis.


Darren Aranofsky’s Black Swan is a menacing psychological drama, boasting an Academy Award-winning performance from Natalie Portman playing Nina, a fragile ballet dancer hoping to secure the lead role in a Broadway production of Tchaikovsky’s much revered Swan Lake.

Together with Portman and cinematographer Matthew Libatique, Aranofsky creates a strikingly intimate portrait of a young woman under extreme personal pressure, showcasing the bone-cracking brutality of a discipline that offers romance and escapism on its surface, but one that can consume those dedicated enough to desire the unattainable – perfection.

Portman’s character battles with sanity as she strives for to be the best, and the camera never leaves her alone. It’s as if we, the audience, are made to feel as though we’re hounding this woman. Vincent Cassel, playing the director of the production, mounts on the pressure, intrusively encouraging Nina to dig deep within, even beyond herself to discover an aspect of her personality needed to portray the dual role of white and black swan. Her unstable mother (Barbara Hershey) makes things worse, suffocating Nina, while hoping to achieve her own lost dreams vicariously through her vulnerable daughter. Then there’s jealousy and temptation, two dangerous emotions that enter Nina’s world in varying degrees, through an alarmingly unhinged Winona Ryder and Mila Kunis.

There’s extreme beauty, eroticism and horror on show in Black Swan, all set around a musical production that sends chills down the spine, whenever the orchestra strikes up to play the powerful score. Aranofsky does a great job of keeping the audience off-balance with some frankly shocking scenes amid a threatening atmosphere that always seems to be on the brink of teetering over the edge. It borrows the odd moment of inspiration from that other great ballet movie, Powell & Pressburger’s sublime 1948 classic, The Red Shoes, but make no mistake, it is every bit as absorbing.


About garethrhodes

Full-time lover of all things creative.
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11 Responses to Black Swan (2010) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

  1. dbmoviesblog says:

    Great review I liked this movie less than you did, but I agree about the good job done in combining horror, eroticism and beauty, as you put it. I still think that low-budget films suit Aronofsky the best, The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream are still my favourite.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Thank you my friend, I appreciate and fully respect your point of view, but I personally prefer Black Swan and The Wrestler to his other movies, not that I like to get too heavily into comparing films with wildly different aims. That said, it’s often said that Black Swan and The Wrestler are perfect bedfellows, in the way they both hone in on a troubled individual, trying to cope with the demands of doing what they do, regardless of the physical and psychological fallout. I think Portman is stunning here. She is like a beautifully fractured ornament – one accidental knock and she’ll crack. It had me on the edge of my seat, throughout. Then there’s THAT music. The majesty of Swan Lake always gives me chills.

  2. princessennui says:

    Meh. I liked Perfect Blue and the novel its based on better.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Oh, not the dreaded ‘I-prefer-the-book’ debate. I never get into that, because we’re talking about two entirely different mediums, that convey a story in ways that are so far apart, that comparison seems pointless. Also, how the hell have we allowed “meh” to become a valid criticism for everything?? If this comes across as a grumpy response, it’s because I’ve been dragged out of bed at 5:00am to go out in the cold for 4hrs on public transport. 😉

  3. Lloyd Marken says:

    While it’s been a while so I can’t really articulate why, I have to say I love Black Swan. It is a great movie.

    • garethrhodes says:

      I can see why it might be polarising, for some, although for me, the sense of weirdness enhances my intrigue. It’s a dark place in the psyche to go to, but one that is nonetheless fascinating.

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        The cinematography could be offputting? I just ate the whole thing up. Sex, guilt, ambition, mortality, fear, competitiveness and of course art. Even when Arronofsky fails you admire his vision.

      • garethrhodes says:

        Possibly. The cinematography was one of things I loved. Like I said in review, the camera work makes the audience feel as though we’re contributing to her stress, by hounding her. The intimacy felt intrusive, on some level.

      • Lloyd Marken says:

        That is a really good point. I love it because it feels very immersive plus you’re literally following the character’s journey but I was just thinking it is kind of stalkerish and you hit the nail on the head.

  4. Excellent review. I think Black Swan is a marvelous film, but it’s probably one of the hardest to write about, not just because it can be so divisive, but simply because there is so much to unpack in the film that I find it difficult to articulate how I felt about it. So well done for this thorough and insightful review, is what I’m trying to say.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Thank you very much for saying that. You’re absolutely right, there is a lot to say about this film, and yes, it will provoke a wide range of responses from people, but for me, this sort of film is far more interesting for this very reason.

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