Black Swan review

Banana Rating: 5 out of 5

To unlock her inner genius, or dark side, Vin­cent Cas­sel sug­gests that Nat­alie Port­man has a go at flick­ing her bean. “You should play with your­self,” he says.

I never knew this about crack­ing one out. How come no-one told me earlier? And if it’s true, how come I aren’t some egg head level genius? How come I haven't invented the flying car, or mastered the stock market, simply by choking the chicken?

Anyway, Nat­alie Port­man is Nina Sey­ers, a baller­ina work­ing for a New York bal­let com­pany. Vin­cent Cas­sel is put­ting on a pro­duc­tion of Swan Lake, and com­pet­i­tion is intense for the lead­ing role of the Swan Queen, a part that requires a cer­tain dual­ity of per­son­al­ity to con­vin­cingly play the white swan, and the movie’s name­sake, the black swan.

Nina’s trouble is that she’s great at por­tray­ing the fra­gil­ity of the white swan, but utterly hope­less at play­ing the black swan. She’s too per­fect, not wild enough in nature, and Cas­sel con­stantly berates her for this through­out the film.

At the same time, she eyes a rival dan­cer called Lily (Mila Kunis), some­what baffled by Lily’s innate abil­ity to be dark, mys­ter­i­ous and sexy, all the qual­it­ies of the black swan that she her­self lacks.

Just how far, men­tally and phys­ic­ally, Nina will go to nail the part, is the primary focus. Thus, Aronof­sky dir­ects with the cam­era hug­ging Port­man all the way through the movie. There’s barely a second when she’s not in shot, Aronof­sky record­ing every flicker of doubt, frus­tra­tion, fear and mad­ness on Portman’sface.

It’s prob­ably her best per­form­ance since Leon, and it’s been a long time com­ing. She’s the film’s centre, brittle, detached, the other char­ac­ters revolving around her. She’s not an espe­cially like­able per­son here, con­sumed by her obses­sion to be the best dan­cer she can be.

She’s Vic­toria Page from The Red Shoes — an obvi­ous influ­ence for Aronof­sky: even some of the cam­era twirls seem pinched dir­ectly from it — with the dial cranked up to 11. The film also draws influ­ence from a cer­tain anime by the late, great Satoshi Kon.

The res­ult­ant mix is an odd, never less than inter­est­ing, over the top, hor­ror film. Some might be sur­prised to find a hor­ror story lurk­ing in a film about bal­let, but it’s there alright. Pop music, movies, they both thrive on celebrity cul­ture, detail­ing every move­ment of our favour­ite stars bey­ond their chosen pro­fes­sions. Bal­let, by con­trast, remains dis­tant, and unknow­able to a lot of us. And the unknown is always key, when tap­ping into our fears.

Black Swan is one of those films where every shot, every beat of the story seems care­fully con­sidered. Save for one, maybe two cliched (as well as unin­ten­tion­ally comic) moments which belong in a cheaper, less demand­ing hor­ror film, Black Swan is nigh on perfect.

Still not sure crack­ing one out is going to make any­one a genius though!