Black Swan is one of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever seen. It tells the story of promising young ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman), who is cast in her first leading performance, Swan Lake. Nina is has the technical skills of a fine dancer. However, director Thomas has doubts that she is up for the emotional demands of the role of the Black Swan. Nina is a naïve, sheltered young woman, who dances all day for the demanding Thomas, and then comes home to her controlling mother Erica (Barbara Hershey.) In addition to Thomas and Erica, Nina must deal with fellow dancer Lily. Does Lily want to be Nina’s friend, or is she a competitor, wanting to see Lily fail?
Nina begins to become unhinged by all the pressures in her life, physical and emotional. We begin to see frequent, vivid images of sexual and violent events in Nina’s life. Are these scenes real, or are they indications of Nina’s emotional breakdown?
While the emotional and physical battle of a performer tackling a difficult role has the makings for a good movie, this is not it. Portman is often mentioned as an Oscar nominee for her performance as Nina. Portman has done the hard work of mastering ballet. Rather than working for Portman’s performance, director Darren Aronofsky detracts from it by the vivid, bizarre, and even repulsive scenes. Rather than drawing me into Nina’s world, he kept me at a distance. I felt no empathy for the characters.
Certainly there are some beautiful moments in the film, as the dancers rehearse their roles. But these are more than overshadowed by the dark images which look like they are from some psychological horror movie. After a while, I stopped trying to determine if these scenes were real or imagined.
Even though Black Swan has received many glowing reviews, I don’t see any redeeming value in this film.
Tom Condon, OP