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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
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Good 3 Stars
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Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Mila Kunis
Natalie Portman
Vincent Cassel
Barbara Hershey
Winona Ryder.
Directors
Darren Aronofsky.
Screenwriters
Mark Heyman
Andres Heinz
John J. McLaughlin.
Running Time
108 minutes

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Black Swan
AKA Gross Pointe Black


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Plot
Fragile dancer Nina (Portman) lives a sheltered, ballet-obsessed life with her over-protective, ex-ballerina mother (Hershey). When Nina is promoted to prima — replacing the older Beth (Ryder) — for a new production of Swan Lake, her director, Thomas (Cassel), urges her to explore her dark side so that she can better embody the dual role of the Swan Queen and the Black Swan. This, combined with her concern over the ambitions of a new arrival at the company, Lily (Kunis), pushes Nina towards breaking point.


Review
Black Swan
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Darren Aronofsky has made no secret of the fact that Black Swan is very much a companion-piece to his 2008 Oscar-contender The Wrestler. And, despite its seemingly more refined and rarefied subject-matter, so it proves: these two movies indeed have more in common with each other than Black Swan does with, say, Powell and Pressburger’s ne plus ultra of ballet movies, The Red Shoes, or even the similarly themed All About Eve.

Both Black Swan and The Wrestler play out largely in grungey, backstage interiors — here typified by Nina’s (Natalie Portman) spartan breezeblock-walled dressing room, closer to The Wrestler’s sweat-drizzled gyms than you might imagine. Both exhibit fascination with specialist professions (based in East Coast locations), and lavish attention on little, arcane rituals, such as Nina repeatedly scoring the soles of her pointe shoes to give them more flex (a distant echo of Mickey Rourke’s ‘Ram’ razoring his own face with a hidden blade to create a crowdpleasing bleed). Both also divine drama — not to mention several squirm ’n’ wince moments — from the potentially crippling physical challenges of those professions, and make much of the resulting tension between age and ambition. Both are shot mostly handheld, with a single camera, Aronofsky favouring personal-space-invading over-the-shoulder angles. And both are, to some degree, the study of a face; the director moving away from the ravaged crags of Mickey Rourke’s bad-history-etched visage to the virgin territory of Portman’s smooth, glassy slopes.

To some degree, yes, Aronofsky is repeating the same tricks, but no more than Martin Scorsese did with Casino and GoodFellas. And it’s not like he’s trying to narrowly reinvent himself as some kind of stripped-down semi-documentarian. In Black Swan there’s also the psyche-searing distress that cut through his debut, Pi, while in its eerie polymorphic scenes you sense shades of The Fountain. There Hugh Jackman’s conquistador fatally sprouted flowers; here Portman erupts feathers.

With its under-the-counter trade in body horror — the bone-fracturing realities insidiously supplanted by arguably over-literal daymares of toes fusing into webbed fowl feet and dark down jabbing through skin — Black Swan has proven unpalatable to many critics, also turned off by both the familiarity of its backstage-rivalry rhythms and its thick laying on of doppelgänger antics. Not only does Portman’s Nina, in her natural guise as Tchaikovsky’s innocent princess Odette, encounter herself as a shadowy Odile, but the lines often blur between her and the physically similar Lily (Mila Kunis) — aka the young, talented upstart — and Beth (Winona Ryder) — the older, usurped prima ballerina. Meanwhile, the significance of mirrors, which hang somewhere in almost every scene, will be overlooked by few.

As with even the best work of David Cronenberg or Brian De Palma (both of whom this film owes a debt), Black Swan certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste. And it’s by no means perfect; Ryder’s badly masacara’d harridan sadly strikes a bum note, while the script — mainly via Vincent Cassel’s strutting, Machiavellian director — does tend to bang on about the whole White/Black Swan dichotomy. But that by no means prevents it from being yet another impressive offering from one of America’s most exciting directing talents.

Aronofsky pulls off some astonishing visual flourishes, transporting us from the dank claustrophobia of toilet cubicles and dressing rooms to the sheer, light-bathed ecstasy of the stage. He shoots ballet like Scorsese shot boxing in Raging Bull: not from the audience’s point of view, but up close, with a forced intimacy that you’d imagine would subvert its grace, but in
fact somehow enhances it, capturing every little twitch, creak and strain.

Like The Wrestler (again), Black Swan also showcases Aronofsky’s ability to tease career-best turns out of lead actors, in this case Portman. And it’s not just the way she passes so easily as a professional dancer. Sure, to begin with, the role appears to involve more of a literal, physical stretch than the metaphorical sort — Portman herself has always tended more towards White Swan than Black. But as Nina’s psychic dissolution occurs, we see Portman simultaneously at her most vulnerable and her most predatory, at once frostily brittle and raunchily malleable (and we’re not just talking about her sex scene with Kunis), before peaking at the film’s denouement with a raw, alluring showstopper of a performance. It’s not spoiling anything to say that, like The Wrestler (yes, yet again), the film closes with the sound of rapturous applause. And just as with Rourke’s final bow in that movie, in this it couldn’t be more rousingly appropriate.


Verdict
An extraordinary, intoxicating movie. Its hard, twisted edges may turn off some, but there’s no faulting either Aronofsky’s technical mastery or Portman’s flawless performance.


Reviewed by Dan Jolin

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Black Swan
Empire Star Rating

RE: Black swan

Following on from his 2008 indie success The Wrestler director Darren Aronofsky delivers his masterpiece. Black Swan takes the form of a psychological horror and tells the story of an obsessive, insecure ballet dancer and her determination to deliver the ‘perfect’ performance in the dual role of both the White and eponymous Black Swan in a new production of the classic ballet Swan Lake. To take the verite stylings of The Wrestler and apply them to the grand operatic nature of Black Swan co... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Biggus at 22:15, 11 October 2012 | Report This Post


Black swan

LOVED IT ! LOVED IT ! LOVED IT ! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by antosh25 at 21:04, 21 April 2012 | Report This Post


Black Swan Review

Bracingly intense, passionate, and wildly melodramatic, Black Swan glides on Darren Aronofsky's bold direction, and a bravura performance from Natalie Portman. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 01:25, 28 February 2012 | Report This Post


Just saw Black Swan for the first time. Great film about one woman's obsession with accessing the dark side of her personality she needs to effectively play the Black Swan in Swan Lake. Portman and Kunis give sublime performances, while Barbara Hershey's portrayl of a powerless mother watching her daughter change in front of her eyes stands out for me. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ak1990 at 11:51, 16 September 2011 | Report This Post


Just saw Black Swan for the first time. Great film about one woman's obsession with accessing the dark side of her personality she needs to effectively play the Black Swan in Swan Lake. Portman and Kunis give sublime performances, while Barbara Hershey's portrayl of a powerless mother watching her daughter change in front of her eyes stands out for me. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ak1990 at 11:51, 16 September 2011 | Report This Post


I really like it -

Polanski meets Lynch meets The Red Shoes - You will either love or hate it - I doubt you will be indifferent - ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bobbyperu at 22:58, 12 August 2011 | Report This Post


So Unique, So Flawed

Really, this does nothing at all to tarnish Aronofsky's record. The film is shot flawlessly and the technical mastery exhibited here are utterly excellent and there is almost no room for criticism. Performances are also top draw. Portman, Kunis, and Cassel are superb, as is the majority of the rest of the cast. The issue is the film itself. Whilst there is, technically, nothing wrong with the film, it is, however, to my mind, a complete mess. The freeform narrative is a total shambles, so much s... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 19:35, 14 June 2011 | Report This Post


Exhilirating

Very intense, passionate and delivering a fine piece of human drama and emotions, Black Swan works astoundingly thanks to Aronofsky's brilliant direction and Portman's heartfelt performance. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by djphilips at 10:46, 22 May 2011 | Report This Post


Shame...real shame

So after months of hype...The Wrestler under his belt.... and plenty of exciting ideas flying around, you’d think Aronofsky would pull it off. No. First problem: just too many good ideas flying around. I thought I was going to see a amazing twisted film about the inne4r workings of the ballet world.... But my problem is.... this film did not know what it wanted to be. Story about ballet/story about a girl in a big ballet/story of a girl getting a lead role in a ballet show/the curse of... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by kirk at 23:27, 20 May 2011 | Report This Post


RIP OFF!

SuSpIrIa kicks the crap! out of this shady knock off! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Horrorguru at 22:31, 19 May 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Black Swan

I was actually a little wary of Black Swan at first due to The Wrestler being by far Aronofsky's most conventional work to date - I think I figured he'd continue in the same vein but I was pleasantly surprised when I watched it. Make no mistake, I think it's a great film but it didn't have that otherworldly, "there's-something-not-quite-right-here" feeling that his previous films have. Black Swan obviously does share some parallels with The Wrestler, but it seems more like The Wrestler by way o... More

Posted by Alpha State at 05:35, 16 May 2011 | Report This Post


AWESOME

IF THIS ISN'T A FIVE STAR MOVIE, NOT SURE WHAT IS! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by chrisdagnall at 12:10, 15 May 2011 | Report This Post


RE: a terrible movie - ignore the hype

He's pulled out of Wolverine. Shame... ... More

Posted by jpdisco at 10:17, 09 May 2011 | Report This Post


RE: a terrible movie - ignore the hype

Aronofsky never failed to deliver and deliver it is in The Black Swan. I have never seen something as mind screwing as this. I really enjoy movies that can leave your mouth gaping wide. something like inception (Nolan) and the rest of Aronofsky's work (the fountain, etc) I heard that he'll be directing / producing the next Wolverine movie. If that cant get you stoked, i dont know what would. ... More

Posted by thomasjamess at 05:07, 09 May 2011 | Report This Post


Not Impressed

I was very excited to see this after hearing all of the hype and having thoroughly enjoyed Aronofsky's The Wrestler. Sadly, I was let down by this surprisingly average movie. Perhaps I'm just not a fan of Aronofsky in general as The Wrestler is the only movie of his that I enjoyed. Although there are many parallels, the plot failed to hold my interest. Yes, her descent into madness was initially intriguing, but getting to the final scene was more of an endurance test than anything. Disappoi... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Turd Ferguson at 17:24, 05 May 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Black Swan

It was... okay.  Personally I thought it was a little stylistically scattershot - I felt there were touches of Suspiria, Rosemarys's Baby and so on in terms of how the whole thing was supposed to feel (it's moments of erraticism and descents into paranoia/lunacy), but the "body horror" element was a bit underwhwleming, and acked a little... uh... "oomph". I would unquestionably give Natalie Portman five amazing stars as she is nothing short of perfect, but the film itself, three. ... More

Posted by Drone at 13:42, 05 May 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Black Swan

The film itself is superb. Natalie Portman has obviously spend hours upon hours perfecting her craft. The best thing about this film however is the cinematography. The way this film gives you a false sense of security and then something bizzare happens. Its strange because I can't find many horror films that can make me jump but when I go and see this film I jump like 2/3 times. The problem I have isn't actually about the film. When I went to see this at the cinema it annoyed me immensly w... More

Posted by wilky007 at 15:33, 27 March 2011 | Report This Post


Disturbed "Black" Woman Dancer

Well, the key to this film is that what brings the lead character ecstacy or even sexual fulfillment is pain or self-mutilation and flirting with death. That is not really a spoiler by any means, but it seems very few reviewers wish to discuss this matter. Her latent Homosexuality or Bi-sexuality is perhaps real or imagined. She has an inability to express love or recieve love in a conventional way (one that will not kill her). Not to mention her many mental health issues which may include s... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JoseJones at 03:29, 26 March 2011 | Report This Post


EMPIRE'S Verdict Sums It Up Perfectly!

EMPIRE couldn't have put it better than the above. In the beginning it has shades of the Wrestler and it is certainly a companion piece of sorts BUT Black Swan deviates greatly into other genres and becomes a psychological thriller/horror. It is genuinly enthralling and captivating and Natalie Portman is indeed perfectly cast. Stunning movie! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by DMeister at 02:51, 24 March 2011 | Report This Post


RE: a terrible movie - ignore the hype

Saw this last night. For me, this was unfortunately a film that the awards frenzy has left very overhyped. Natalie Portman was fantastic in it, but on the whole it was a lesser movie than say The Wrestler. SPOILER TO FOLLOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! After Vicent Cassel's earlier speech detailing the production's story, I also felt the ending was a bit too predictable. Yes, it obviously fitted well, an... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by film man aidy at 20:38, 03 March 2011 | Report This Post


RE: a terrible movie - ignore the hype

Found it a bit confusing but good overall, I actually thought there was too much dancing, seemed like some of it was filler. Guess it can't be blamed since its a ballet film lol. If you found the movie confusing ink] is some clarification of some of the themes in the film, but mega spoiler warning, don't read unless you've seen actually seen it. Link: cinemaroll.com/cinemarolling/black-swan-destruction-in- perfection/ ... More

Posted by galaxy584 at 20:46, 27 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: a terrible movie - ignore the hype

L: Jason Abbey I spent a good deal of time wondering when Barbara Hershey had turned into Mickey Rourke. I kept expecting her to bring on the Ram Jam. ROFLMAO ... More

Posted by JohnChard at 00:12, 26 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Awlful, awful movie

L: demoncleaner L: Qwerty Norris It's an extraordinary example of directorial ability and whilst David Fincher will walk away with the golden statue for the Social Network – it is the work here that is far more deserving. Perhaps you're crediting Aronofsky with choreographing either the dancing or the stage production, because I'm pretty sure he hadn't a lot to do with it.   sp; But it`s the way he filmed said dance sequences, there`s a bit more to it than ju... More

Posted by JohnChard at 23:47, 25 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: a terrible movie - ignore the hype

L: Scruff I'm with you on this. Actually a big fan of The Fountain was this was B-movie horror fare. Massively over-hyped and in need of some subtlety. sp; That`s a fair point, it`s about as subtle as a sledgehammer. ... More

Posted by JohnChard at 23:42, 25 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Black Swan

]I just want to be perfect./align]]Black Swan is directed by Darren Aronofsky and co-written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz & John McLaughlin. It stars Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey & Winona Ryder. Clint Mansell scores the music and Matthew Libatique is the cinematographer./align]]Nina Sayers (Portman) is committed to her art as a ballet dancer, she lives a secular life with her over protective mother (Hershey), herself a one time dancer. When Nina`s ballet ... More

Posted by JohnChard at 23:37, 25 February 2011 | Report This Post


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