Movies

Black Swan

Natalie Portman shines yet again in Darren Aronofsky's dance-world shocker.

|

Darren Aronofsky's wonderfully creepy Black Swan bears less resemblance to a lyrical ballet movie of old, like The Red Shoes, than it does to the crack-up classic, Repulsion. Roman Polanski's 1965 film dealt with an isolated young woman in the grip of sexual hysteria and psychological disintegration. Aronofsky's protagonist, a heavily repressed ballerina named Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), is similarly unstable, and as in the earlier picture, we view her mental collapse from her own delusional perspective. The movie has some shaky plot points and an underdeveloped key character—it's not entirely satisfying; but it's infused with the director's usual creative brio, and it has a great dark gleaming look. It's an ambitious shocker, and it's hard to imagine anyone other than Aronofsky (almost) pulling it off.

Portman's Nina is a dancer with a Lincoln Center company that could be the New York City Ballet (one of whose members, Benjamin Millepied, choreographed the elegant dance sequences in the film). Nina still lives with her mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), a former dancer who sacrificed her own career to raise her child and is now, in traditional fashion, living out her lost dreams through her daughter. But Nina's career seems stuck: After several years with the corps de ballet, she has yet to win a featured role. Then, in the midst of preparing a modernized version of Swan Lake, the company's creative director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassell), decides to "retire" his aging prima ballerina, Beth Mcintyre (Winona Ryder), and, after close observation, to replace her with Nina. It's a contingent decision, though—Thomas admires Nina's technical perfection as a dancer, but feels she still lacks the inner fire necessary for stardom. He drills her relentlessly to merge with her new role. "Lose yourself," he tells her. Nina, a fragile personality to begin with, takes his command rather too much to heart.

The movie cleverly models its storyline on that of Swan Lake itself. Nina must dance the part of the White Swan, a vision of purity, and also that of the Black Swan, her sensuous double. When Nina's own Black Swan, a dark beauty named Lily (Mila Kunis), joins the company, Nina becomes convinced that the newcomer is after her role. Where Nina's life is consumed by ballet, Lily is an urban party girl, at home with drink and drugs and wild sex, and she draws Nina into her lurid orbit. Lily may be more than Nina's rival; she could be her downfall.

Eeriness seeps into the story slowly. We notice a strange abrasion on Nina's back at one point; and when she walks past a wall filled with portraits, we see the eyes in one of the faces slowly start to move. Her mother becomes an increasingly disturbing presence; and there's a repulsive encounter in a subway, and a scene in a hospital that's pure Guignol. Meanwhile, Thomas is becoming a problem: Is he trying to loosen her up for her big performance—or is he coming on to her? "Sex—do you enjoy it?" he asks. "We need to be able to talk about this." Receiving no positive response, he tells her, "Go home, touch yourself—live a little." As the big night approaches, and Nina's world begins to fragment in ever more alarming ways, we wonder if she can escape the fate of the White Swan she plays in the ballet.

Natalie Portman gives one of her most compelling performances in this film, which is saying something. She navigates her character's mental decline—and some boldly-staged sex scenes—with supreme confidence. (She also did most of her own dancing, which is captured with customary hand-held finesse by Aronofsky's regular cinematographer, Matthew Libatique.) It's unfortunate that Vincent Cassel's character isn't more fully worked-out—this powerful actor really needed more to bite into. And the picture's conclusion leaves some questions distractingly unanswered. Still, Black Swan isn't like any other movie you're likely to see this year. Which could be reason enough to see it.  

Kurt Loder is a writer, among other things, embedded in New York.

NEXT: What Wikileaks Hasn't Told Us (Yet): Coup Edition

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. This is the only movie you’ll ever see Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis make out in.

    Take my $10.00. Please.

    1. Why is the coward of AirforceBaseStock working at reason?

      1. U MAD?

  2. “a heavily repressed ballerina whose mental collapse the audience views from her own delusional perspective.”

    Wait… what?

  3. So, no car chases and explosions?

    Boy……I think Ima have to pass on this one. At least The Professional and that Star Wars movie she was in had gunfights and stuff.

    1. “This is the only movie you’ll ever see Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis make out in.”

      Seriously?

      1. Seriously – no homo…

        1. It’s only homo if ur a girl

          1. I support gay marriage if both chicks are hot. Get the t-shirt.

  4. Nice to see Darren has bounced back from the poor reception of The Fountain. I’m one of the four people on the planet who liked that film. I like everything he has done, although I haven’t gotten around to watching “Below”.

    1. Below was directed by David Twohy (The Arrival, Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick), and is actually pretty damn good, like most of Twohy’s work.

    2. The Fountain is a very underrated movie. Maybe it was the victim of being mis-marketed, I seem to recall the ads and trailers talking about “A Love That Spans Centuries” when really the movie is about a guy trying to come to terms with death.

    3. The Fountain was amazing. I loved it.

    4. Oh my god, I loved The Fountain!

      1. I also enjoyed The Fountain: It reminds me of two other underrated flicks that show it’s possible to make good sci fi: Sunshine and Solaris.

    5. I REALLY liked The Fountain, so I guess that makes 5 of us – that’s 25% more positive reviews than expected! Heh!

    6. I guess I am one too…I wonder who the other 2 are?

  5. I like Aronofsky, but I didn’t like what I saw in a preview recently. I doubt I’ll see it in the theater, but will grab it on Netflix.

  6. I hope this is better than The Wrestler, which I found slightly overrated.

    As far as Natalie Portman goes, she’s a pretty gal and I am guessing a good actress (based on what everyone says). But I have to admit, there’s some irrevocable damage in my perceptions of her from both Episodes I-III and Garden State.

    I want to say she didn’t even try and act in the Star Wars disasters, but frankly no one’s that bad without being told to be that bad (I can see George Lucas between takes…”I’m thinking of wood, could I get more of a 2×4 stiffness here?”). But directed that badly or not, I can almost see Portman mouthing “Where’s my check? This better not bounce, nerds.”

    Garden State just blows. Its less believable than the Star Wars crap. I mean, how many weird, socially repressed girls are out there who also are perfect 10’s? I’ll buy hyperspace and lightsabers-is-real before I buy that. Plus every time I see Zach Braff or whatever his name is my trigger-finger itches, just something about that smarmy schmuck that makes my body scream for Badal (for all the sandboxers out there).

    So maybe my Natalie Portman bad impressions are other peoples fault, but what can you do…I hope this one’s decent.

    1. I recommend the 2004 “Closer,” for which NP was justly nominated for an Oscar. (Not that that’s always of guarantee of anything…)

    2. I think everyone who is associated with the last three Star Wars movies is irrevokeably tainted. And yeah, Garden State is awful. Another is the hundreds of “beautiful chick can’t get a date and is sweet but nuerotic and lovable” genre. Fucking awful. And Portman got into movies on her looks. She is beautiful ban’t can’t act and hasn’t acted since she was 11 in The Professional.

      1. The Professional – still her best work. She was Unbelievably GOOD in that.

        And I think she was 12…11, 12, Unbelievably GOOD acting…

      2. I agree Garden State was a steaming pile of shit.

      3. agreed, 100%. Can’t tell you how many guys I have to straighten out and tell that she’s a bad actress. However, if she’s kissing Mila Kunis, well, okay, I think i can wait until DVD.

    3. By being not utterly wretched, merely lifeless, she was actually one of the better things about Eps I-III.

  7. I hope this is more than a Repulsion rip-off. The Wrestler was poorly written dreck. Crappy “gritty” 16mm cinematography too.

  8. Wow – can’t wait.

    Haven’t seen Portman since ‘V’ and their battles against Bush/Cheney style totalitarianism/fascism.

    Preferred her in ‘Closer’ though. She let her hair down.

    1. As opposed to Shrike style fascism.

    2. Go home. Touch yourself. Live a little.

    3. V was a terrible mashup of Phantom of the Opera meets A Clockwork Orange, stealing the least interesting parts of both then thrown through a 1984 blender. It was a personal act of vengeance masquerading as social justice. It did, in fact, suck balls. Although Portman’s acting was fine.

      1. WTF is wrong with “libertarians” these days?

        Why do they reflexively jump to the defense of patro-fascists?

        (Its cool, you guys. Its the Mel Gibson Gawd thing. Its a GREASE thingy – I understand.)

      2. An English friend of mine complained about her ‘1950’s upscale London accent’, and I replied, ‘if only all your gals sounded like that.’

      3. And you still give it too much credit.

        1. I have to keep it under 5 sentences, lest it become a ‘commander’ style 1000 word rant complete with randomly capitalized words and orphaned punctuatation marks.

  9. You prefer Obama/Chicago style totalitarianism/stalinism?

    1. As a matter of style, actually, yes. But for positive outcomes, not so much.

  10. I’m shocked at myself for wanting to see this, and I’m glad to see a positive review that might push me to that point.

  11. When I first read about this movie last Spring, I had to check the date for April 1. Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman nekad, making out in a movie directed by Aronofsky? Too good to be true.

  12. I just read a piece on how hard Mila Kunis worked on this movie and it truly gave me a lot of respect for her dedication and professionalism. I hope she’s does well in it. I love her in Family Guy but does anyone notice that her Meg “voice” is exactly how she sounds in her real life and everyday conversation? She seems to take acting very professionally and I think that’s great.

  13. This may have been one of her most compelling performances, but her absolute most compelling performance was her rap song.

  14. Loder’s review makes me think it’s like Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, unanswered questions and all.

    That’s actually the film I’ll probably be judging it against.

    1. In fact, the more I think about it, just from the description?

      The more I wonder if The Black Swan‘s debt to The Piano Teacher isn’t something like what The Lion King owes to Kimba*.

      The parallels are a little too similar from the description–color me prejudiced on this. I’m not saying Hamlet can’t be done well in more than one way, but just so you know? Without even having seen it, it sounds like a reworking of The Piano Teacher

      *everything.

  15. Myshoesoutlet.com is the first online professional wholesale designer shoes, discount shoes store where you can buy hot fashion but cheap shoes online at the best price including Gucci discount shoes, Coach Shoes, Chanel designer shoes. http://www.myshoesoutlet.com/

  16. eee ooo iiii jawww

    1. at the risk of cliche: LOL

  17. You had me at “boldly-staged sex scenes”.

  18. When I first saw the preview for this I thought it looked like the creepiest ballet movie since Suspiria.

  19. From the commercials I was thinking Single White Female in toe shoes.

  20. it’s Art…the guy with no arms and no legs hanging on the wall.

  21. Sounds like another heaping dose of Hollywood pretentious garbage. Black Swan should be re-named Burnt Turkey.

    Who cares if two hollywood wacko actresses make out. Been there, Seen it before. Move along nothing to see!

  22. I like it here, because they look awesome, the style is the most popular this year!Very attractive published, hope to more interesting hangings, like this: http://www.airmax-2011.net

  23. I like it here, because they look awesome, the style is the most popular this year!Very attractive published, hope to more interesting hangings, like this:cheap air max sneakers

  24. I like it here, because they look awesome, the style is the most popular this year!

  25. Thank you, my dear on this important topic You can also browse my site and I am honored to do this site for songs
    http://www.iraq3.com
    This website is for travel to Malaysia
    http://www.iraq3.com/vb

  26. Thank you, my dear on this important topic You can also browse my site and I am honored to do this site for songs
    http://www.nikejrshoes.com

  27. I like it here, because they look awesome, the style is the most popular this year!Very attractive published,

  28. I find this articel is very helpful,I’d like to vote for it .

  29. Thank you, my dear on this important topic.
    people always compare the hyperfuse 2011 with
    hyperdunk 2011,

  30. Next to the tray, lay still sinking, just pull air max griffey out

    the rotten tooth – mouth, after sinking the innermost of the molar. That big, long teeth on the clamp placed on

    the side, front-end also with a bloodshot. The old man, no, to say the old dentist, to a cotton ball into her

    mouth, jordans fusionsstuck in the wound, still very gently: “Two

    hours later spit it out, remember do not rinse with cold water, to avoid infection. ”
    Consciously went wrong ha ha ha ha …

  31. I do not know why, gradually, the pain a href=”http://www.supraskytopscheap.com”>cheap supra shoes has not

    been seen, a kind of hemp, and itch feeling. The girl with the old man’s action, which more and more wet, even

    flow. She knew it was a normal reaction, but still very reluctant to do. The old man wiped out the flow is still

    kind of a very careful look.
    Girls feel that perhaps the old man would air max ltdhave been better

    than the younger guy, at least very gentle, will not be so rude. She felt a little lucky. Suddenly the old man

    suddenly in the depths of force with a little girl, “ah ~ ~” a cry, and back back because of hard, her body and

    shake up. She felt the cold waves of the innermost.
    Finally over. The old man put his big, long, cheap air jordansthe

    hard guy slowly from the inside out, and then very casually to the front of that white thing next to throw in a

    tray, a long sigh. Gradually wake up girl She sat up, very unable to reach for that glass of water around the

    mouth rinse.

  32. The text you tell us is very good, i think most of us are intrested in your text.

  33. thank you man

    thank you man

  34. Pretty good post. Click me, here you want. Try, try, try

  35. I hope this is better than The Wrestler, which I found slightly overrated.

  36. Thank you for sharing that I will continue to focus on..

  37. I know I’m not beautiful, but everyday I hope you think that I am.

  38. An adult suffering from an annual average of 2 to 5 times cold, but, cheap air jordans by drugs that inhibit influenza is not a good thing. British “The

    Independent” describes not a cold medication six methods.
    Absorb heat: more than the common cold accompanied by sneezing, runny nose and other symptoms. The best way to

    reduce is to keep the nose clean, very good suction effect of heat. The water soaked towel on the nose near the

    absorption heat, if we drop a few drops of vegetable oil, such as eucalyptus oil, lighter symptoms. Can also be

    washed in a hot bath or sitting in a bath full of hot air, the cold effect on children do particularly well.
    Drink hot drinks: a study found that hot juice on tn requinnasal

    airflow, symptoms of common cold and flu positive results surprising. Slightly bitter drink some hot drinks are

    also air max griffey particularly useful. Many doctors recommend drinking honey, fresh ginger in hot water and

    lemon juice.
    Plenty of rest: a cold, take a break two days the best treatment. Because only sleep in order for the body to be

    repaired. Inflammation caused by the virus as long as there exists any minor activities are harmful, especially

    the elderly.
    Add Nutrition: Some nutrients can help enhance immunity, such as vitamin A (eggs, milk), vitamin E (nuts, grains)

    and selenium (nuts, seafood and pork). Can eat cheap air

    jordansmore garlic, because garlic has anti-microbial effect.
    Gargle: mouthwash can temporarily relieve sore throat. tn requin approach is to add a spoonful of salt in hot

    water, rinse four times a day.
    Add pillows: padded pillow to sleep, nasal mucus discharge will go smoothly.

  39. Authentic NFL jerseys can be hard to find. That’s because there are tons of imitators and knock offs on the market today. The good news is that it is easy to spot the difference between an authentic NFL jersey and a knock off, before you shell out the cash and it’s too late. Keep these ideas in mind when you’re shopping for an Cheap NFL jerseys to ensure that you end up with the real thing. http://www.topnflnhl.com/nfl-jerseys-c-61 Cheap NFL jerseys

  40. Yan-Ling Li said, “Qiuzao” is not terrible, air max jordans fusions griffey generally less than, the treatment is relatively easy, but family and nursed back to health

    care is very important, otherwise it may be lingering diseases. “Qiuzao” There are many reasons, but poor diet is

    an important predisposing factor, the diet should focus on early fall season, “moist”, that is, Yin Qing Zao,

    lungs and fluid.
    Yan-Ling Li cautioned that the effective control “Qiuzao”, you can work on the diet. In the early fall season

    should eat or not eat spicy food fragrant dry to light
    chaussure tn GAN-based. Xianou, pears, chestnuts and carrots, tofu, black fungus, honey has a yin and moistening

    effect, might eat some;

  41. 23 ushered in the fall of the second solar
    cheap supra shoes term Chushu. cheap air jordans nutrition experts have warned that this time section, the public should be careful “Qiuzao” wounding, in enhancing body exercise, it should also pay attention to food conditioning, eat or not eat spicy fragrant dry food, eat light food.
    Chushu season, gradually drying due to climate, many people will feel the morning when the dry throat, dry skin, even drinking a glass of water, it is difficult to
    air max griffey quench their thirst. This phenomenon is commonly known as “autumn dryness.”

  42. 2011 Nike NFL Jerseys are a brand sale with fast deliver,and Cheap NFL Jerseys are favorite by many fans.

  43. One such product that the NFL Jerseys Cheap has marketed well is their extensive line of jerseys. Chances are, if you check back in in a few weeks, then they will have more of what you are looking for.You can find Cheap Ugg Boots at fairly reasonable prices.

  44. let it travel Ugg 5498 directly on your ear.

  45. The article very surprised to me! Your writing is good. In this I learned a lot! Thank you! Share with us the good times.
    http://www.onestopclothingshop.com/

  46. Thanks for offering information.welcome to our website: http://www.likejerseys.org/.
    This website sell cheap jerseys with high quality,awesome!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.