Film Review: Black Swan

Psychological thriller Black Swan is an aural and visual feast. Despite the tension generated, the film is let down by the lack of depth, thematically speaking.

Ballet dancer Nina hopes to get the lead role in a new production of Swan Lake. She faces competition from new dancer Lilly, as well as the reservations of director Thomas. As she gets deeper into character, Nina starts to lose control…

Black Swan is at times a psychological thriller and at times a horror movie. Director Darren Aronofsky plays with audience perception; the state of Nina’s mind remains ambiguous, and we can never entirely trust what we are shown. Black Swan stops at this, however. There is no deeper exploration into Nina’s madness (real or perceived), and the overriding theme is simply the juxtaposing of opposites.

Black Swan is preoccupied with the idea of doubles. The production has the two versions of the swan; the white and black. Similarly, Nina and Lilly are rivals, but are incredibly similar in terms of looks. The primary focus of the film seems to be exhibiting striking contrast between light and dark, and what happens when these two adversaries collide.

Although this thematic preoccupation isn’t particularly groundbreaking, the film nevertheless is successful in generating a reaction from its audience. Black Swan is effective in provoking tension, and some of the graphic imagery can only be described as abject.

Aronofsky’s direction is flawless. Particularly striking is his use of hand-held camera in the dance scenes. Weaving through the dancers on stage, viewers are catapulted right into the action. The choreography is excellent, and coupled with the fluid camera the film parades a real sense of movement.

Black Swan promotes a highly stylised aesthetic. Some of the costumes are amazing, and the film exhibits a fantastic use of colour. For example, the dance rehearsal scenes are strikingly contrasted by the club scene; naturalistic colour and the emphasis on black and white are replaced by the vibrant flashing lights of the dance floor. Clint Mansell’s score combines well with the music from Swan Lake to accentuate the tension perfectly.

Natalie Portman gives a solid performance as Nina. Her disposition contrasts effectively with Mila Kunis’ Lilly. Vincent Cassel is well cast as Thomas, appearing sleazy but motivated in his work. Barbara Hershey is excellent as Nina’s controlling mother, while casting Winona Ryder as aging prima ballerina Beth was a stroke of genius.

Although the film looks and sounds fantastic, it is let down by a lack of sophistication in the narrative. Nevertheless, Black Swan is one of the most memorable films of the year.

Black Swan is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.

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