Thursday, 3 February 2011


Black Swan [Review]

Opinion: A-

A grand masterpiece of film art by Darren Aronofsky that is highly empowered by visuals and sounds in synergy with a remarkable performance by Natalie Portman as the ballerina who seeks nothing but perfection in her pursuit of performance art. Likely to be disturbing in the second half with relentless boundary crossings between reality and illusions, it is nevertheless one of the best films of 2010.

"Black Swan" follows the story of Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who zealously supports her daughter's professional ambition. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well.

Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.

In my opinion, this is a more of a fine piece of art rather than film. After all its subject of interest is of ballet and how a ballerina undergoes a dark venture in seek of perfection through severely distorted visuals of reality and illusions. "Black Swan" begins with a dream sequence and isn't afraid to continue dreaming for the rest of the film.

Aronofsky bravely pursued his dreams as an artistic filmmaker.

Dreams are supposed to be bright and positive, but not in here. "Black Swan" starts off with a highly-disciplined Nina who appears to be shiny and pristine and determined to be the Swan Queen, the leading protagonist of the new production Swan Lake. Never did Nina realise how demanding that role will be of her as it requires her to sport double contrasting identities as both the White and Black Swan.

Never will we expect anybody to achieve excellence in two or more fields, it applies here as well. Nina is trying for the almost impossible task of embodying both the Angel and Devil. The only way is to lose her own self and enter darkness.

Perhaps unknowingly, Natalie Portman does similar as Nina in this film and renders a near perfect performance as she has successfully entered the skins of the ballerina. Adding on to the element of conviction, Portman has been reportedly practicing ballet for 10 months prior to the film production in order to improve the feel of grace and competency in the performing art.

Such dedication attracts much admiration.

Darkness ensues in the form of nightmarish sequences that are pieced together by artful visuals captured by Matthew Libatique and dramatic score by Clint Mansell. Aronofsky threatens the audience's emotions by instilling unrest via effectively alternating between reality and illusions through the perspective of Nina as well as the amazing editing by Andrew Weisblum. Together, these grips you tightly without letting go and only to be compensated by the graceful ballet moves.

At some point, you're almost inside Nina's realm.

The question comes pouring to you upon the end of the credit roll: Is Nina's pursuit of perfection justified by her own passion or just a mere empty destination that she is coerced by those around her into reaching? You might like to take a step back and relate this to the current capitalist society of elitism, where everyone strives to be atop of others. Corporate ladders, Dean's lists, Power struggle, these are some of the tragedies that witness several resorting to everything in order to continue their ascend.

This is further probed by the egoistic Thomas who never cease to push his ballerinas to extremes in order to attain results, where his ego seems to have outweighed his passion for ballet (if any). He could very well just be building a platform to sleep with them, as suggested briefly in the film. Likewise, Lily is possibly an innocent nemesis that is self-generated by Nina's heightened fear of losing at her game.

The higher you climb, the more edgy you become of others in paranoia.

No matter how you see it, it is undeniable that Aronofsky is one of the greatest filmmaking artist in the industry and has produced yet another stunning piece of art that has pushed fellow cast and crew into striving for perfection. (The Singapore big screen release version is passed with cuts, a move that deems to dilute the film's endeavour of perfection pursuit.) As remarkably flawless it may appear to be, it is nevertheless a tad bit short of perfection.

For future improvement can only be possible with imperfection.


  1. Awesome movie. Great review. Natalie Portman won herself an Academy Award for Best Actress.

  2. I was absolutely blown away by it! An amazing achievement by both, Aronofsky and Portman, and a great review delivered by you, J-son! Bravo! :)

  3. @Matty Thanks Matt! Agreed! I can't see who will deserve it more than Portman does. Might cause the Oscar race for her category to be a little boring, but still I love her for Black Swan. :D

    @Nebular Thank you George, I'm so glad you love this film too. I was very impressed and floored by this film, I came out feeling overwhelmed, like WOW. :)

  4. The movie is out already?? :O

    Anyways, HAPPY CNY!! ;D

  5. @JEMSEN Happy Chinese New Year Jemsen! Yes it's sneaking this long weekend in Singapore before its official release date 10 February!

  6. Wonderful review, J-Son! Glad you adore this film too :) Happy CNY! Gong Xi Fa Cai, Wan Shi Ru Yi.

  7. great review, I enjoyed this movie a lot though didnt think I would.

  8. @Jaccstev I'm so glad that you've enjoyed this too! Because it's very nice to share about a film that you love and see a large community concurring. Thank you Jaccstev!

    @Demps Yeah, I didn't think much of it prior watching this. Maybe that's why I was so blown away by it. Portman was superb!


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