Film Review: BLACK SWAN

Directed and Written by Darren Aronofsky
Release datE: 12/01/10
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder

Coming out of the theater, a man stopped me and asked me if I’d like BLACK SWAN. I said yes and he went on to ask me, “Why?” I began to tell him I could understand why it wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but he stopped me and said, “Yes, but why did you like it?” I have wrestled with that question for the past five days.

PLOT: A ballet company is about to launch a new and revolutionary version of Swan Lake. The artistic director, Thomas, (Cassel), who’s used the same dancer (Ryder) in major roles for some time wants a fresh face and chooses Nina (Portman) despite his concern that she will only be credible in the part of the White Swan. She is too much the “virgin” to bring much to the part of the Black Swan.

Portman lives in a cocoon with her mother (Hershey) who gave up her career to raise her daughter. The relationship between the two is an odd one; Hershey treats Nina like the ten-year old she once was and Nina embraces this handling rather than pushing past it.

As the strain of perfecting the part, in dealing with her overly invested mother, the seductive yet cruel Thomas, in fighting off another’s dancer’s (Kunis) bid for the role, Portman begins to crumble and reality and madness swirl around Portman for most of the film.

Although this film mostly closely resembled a horror movie from my point of view, some viewers might think Aronofsky’s film is overly operatic. Some might think it is too dependent on earlier films like THE RED SHOES and even CARRIE and REPULSION. But I found it to be original, intense, horrific, and compelling. Portman’s performance catapults her into a new sphere in terms of what future parts might come her way. It is an amazing performance buttressed by other superb performances. Like Aronofsky’s earlier film, THE WRESTLER, THE BLACK SWAN deals with a single-minded performer willing to give everything to her art. Unfortunately, these characters don’t put a similar, if any, value on their lives.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.