Sunday, 30 December 2012

Black Swan (2010)

“Get ready to give me more of that bite!”

This is only the second film helmed by Darren Aronofsky that I’ve seen ( I reviewed π a fair while ago), and already he’s threatening to become one of my favourites. The previous film, an early effort, was low budget and independent, while this is a big Hollywood film, but the directorial style is just as uncompromised. This film, essentially, rocks. It’s intense. It’s clever. Once again there’s a focus on the inner life of one character, although I suppose I‘d have to see more of Aronofsky’s films to know whether this is a thing of him. But this film rules. Sod it, it’s about ballet, and I loved it. Do you have any idea how little I knew or cared about ballet?

In reality, though, this film could be set within any milieu where the competition is intense and overpowering. It’s hard to see a more extreme example of this than in the life of the ballerina, though; out of a large chorus there are only a few who make it big. The dietary restrictions are impossibly draconian. Joints are cracked as part of a regular ritual sure to guarantee consequences later in life. The sacrifices made are huge, and yet it may lead to nothing, as was the case with Nina’s mother, who simultaneously places her hopes in her daughter and jealously puts her down.

This is not a healthy lifestyle in any sense. In the case of Nina there is disturbingly graphic self-harm, sexual favours given for the sake of a good role, and ultimately derangement of a kind which is beautifully demonstrated throughout the film; only towards the tragic denouement do we realise just how many of the events have happened only in Nina’s imagination. The film is a slow unravelling of one obsessed young woman’s life, and it’s riveting.

Natalie Portman carries the film, with credit also due to Mila Kunis as the grounded and stable Lily and Vincent Cassel, so great in La Haine, as Maestro Thomas LeRoy, in the first time I’ve seen him in an English language film. LeRoy is a deeply creepy individual, using his power over these desperately ambitious, attractive young women in ways which are desperately predictable. Also worthy of praise is Winona Rder as Beth, whose fate prefigures the horrors which await Nina and point towards the meaninglessness of such obsession. Only those such as Lily, with a sense of perspective and a life outside ballet, survive relatively unscathed.

The climactic scenes, of Nina’s performance, are deeply clever, sublimely directed, and lead us to question much of what we’ve seen. This is a very clever, very visual and delightfully weird film which takes an art house sensibility and puts it into the relative mainstream. It’s a must see, whether you follow ballet or not.


  1. I love this movie so much. Such a collossal vindication to see Portman win the Oscar for it. I would highly recommend The Wrestler as your next Aranofsky flick!

  2. Thanks for the recommendation! I'm definitely going to be watching more Aronofsky, and The Wrestler sounds a good place to start. Sounds like another film exploring the interior life of one character, which so far seems give Aronofsky's thing. It'll be interesting to find out whether that's true if his wider body if work or not.