A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
For film releases, 2010 was a powerhouse year. Just take a look at some of the titles to come out just 4 years ago and consider yourself lucky you were there for such an incredible 365 days. As far as films go, it’s hard to pick a favourite, but as far as individual performances are concerned, it is as clear as day why Natalie Portman won OSCAR gold.
There has not been a performance that has been as invigorating, chilling and impressive in a long while, particularly when I for one was not expecting it on such a level. Portman is one of the most talented people in the industry, but even after understanding her endless achievements and ultra-impressive resume, her performance in “Black Swan” was surprising beyond belief.
After winning the lead role in a contemporary vision of the classic “Swan Lake” dance, Nina Sayers (Portman) slowly begins to shift into despair, hallucination and insanity as the role takes over her state of mind in more ways than one.
Nina is a gifted, sweet girl with endless ambition, but after stepping out into the behind the scenes, unflattering world of seedy, disreputable competitive dance, she becomes a target from everyone around her, and thus, passively becomes moulded into something out of her control.
Director Darren Aronofsky is not one to shy away from graphic themes and imagery in his films. 2000’s “Requiem For a Dream” is a prime example of how disturbing some of the elements can become within one of his films. “Black Swan” is nowhere near as gruesome and in-your-face as “Requiem”, however it’s not without it’s moments.
This is not a film that you’d take your aspiring daughter to; especially if they admire the world and art of ballet dancing. It is a character study above all else, sending a message about several themes including love, trust, competition, honour, morality, division, discovery and sexism. It works on several levels in striking hard, however there are a few issues I personally have with the film.
The primary issue is the jump scare. I understand the film is not a cheerful one, and the plummet into insanity that we see Nina travel on is designed to be harrowing. It just seems the inclusion of jump scares scattered throughout the film simply generate a jolt in the audience, but not one that really possesses any substance.
I would like to see the exact same film over again, only this time with the loud noises eliminated from the jump scare moments. I believe less is more in this instance, and the film in my opinion could become more of a psychological mind-bending picture with the unsettling features having even more of an effect than they already do.
The second issue comes with the film’s antagonist. The real question is, who exactly is the film’s antagonist?
The simple answer is that nearly everyone is an antagonist in “Black Swan”, but the primary one I take issue with is Vincent Cassel’s Thomas Leroy. The director of “Swan Lake” who uses, manipulates and mentors his ballerinas is twisted, arrogant and disgusting at his core. Initially, we get a solid look at his motives, desires and ideals, as well as his unforgiving stronghold on everything associated with the play itself.
This is fantastic character development, especially for such a believable person. It just seems that towards the climax of the film, he drops off slightly, losing the same menace and dictator-like energy. He steps down a peg, more to his dancer’s level, but then again, that might be the point. I’m probably looking too far into it.
With Cronenberg-inspired imagery, “Black Swan” is a beautifully shot and structured film. There are clever shots that utilise 360 mirror angles and manipulate them in a way that extends the paths some characters are going on.
The major theme in the film is obviously good vs evil, yin and yang, angel and devil, light and dark, black and white. It’s the mirrors that provide a lot of the symbolism in the film for me – they extend the aforementioned theme more so by giving the characters a reflection, an extension of themselves, an opposite.
Nina’s hallucinations and constant observation of herself as she crumbles into madness are perfectly assisted by the mirrors and I think they’re a fantastic tool to work with.
Performances all round are great, there is nobody I would say is flawed as far as acting is concerned. Mila Kunis shows off her dramatical, serious tones, Cassel is great, especially earlier on, while Barbara Hershey shoes as one of the film’s few ‘good’ characters in Nina’s mother Erica. Winona Ryder returns to the big screen in a smaller role, but a powerful one nonetheless, and she is excellent once again as Beth Macintyre; a scene-stealing character at some stages.
Cleaning up in “Gravity-style” fashion in 2010, “Black Swan” is definitely deserving of it’s success. It’s a bold film with some ambitious story telling techniques that combine with a perfect cast to produce something unique ad special.
The standout performance from Portman has solidified her status as one of the industry’s elite (not that she wasn’t already), while the supporting cast are excellent in their own ways. Aronofsky is the perfect man for the job and he brings his A-game once again!