Black Swan
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Black Swan

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Movies have told stories concerning a myriad of themes but one that most would agree is unlikely to become a hit film is classical ballet. Ballet is often viewed as a stuffy form of dance that women in the upper echelon of society drag their reluctant husbands to in a night of formal wear and grandeur. Over the years some ballet movies have managed to get produced an have met with some degree of critical acclaim but none have managed to achieve the critical acclaim and box office return as ‘Black Swan’. The film was not exactly an overnight success. Costing just over $13 million it barely mad ten percent back during its opening weekend which encompassed only 18 screens. This is a prime example of the new found power of independent movies. Films like ‘Juno’ or ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ were made for a shoestring yet swept the award season and generating hundreds of millions in returns. Fox Searchlight Pictures is the division of the studio that gives the proper attention to smaller films with great potential like this one. It would wind up pulling in over $110 million and that is before DVD and Blu-ray sales. There are some now famous scenes that made the rounds on the internet for the usual salacious interest but such sensationalism could hardly propel this movie to the heights it reached. For that you need the trifecta of great story, tight direction and imaginative performances to make a real and lasting impact and ‘Black Swan’ has blended those factors to become part of cinematic history. To say this is just a dance flick is like saying ‘Rocky’ is a sports movie. Sure dance is at the heart of the motivation and drives the numerous elements of the story but it serves more as the foundation not the architectural marvel constructed on top of it. This movie is at its core a tautly crafted psychological thriller that uses the obsessions inherent in ballet as a backdrop of a probing study of the darkest recesses of the human mind. Throw in some surreal special effect and this is a film even the guys will gladly watch.

One of the most amazing aspects of this film is the creation of the story. The main authors are tow relatively new to scripting; Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz. To come with such a beautifully complex interwoven story that provides for some of the most fascinating character development I’ve seen in quiet a long time. I was mesmerized by this film from the first frame to the final role of credits. It might not be immediate evident but the world of ballet on this level is one of the most psychologically intense and physically grueling endeavors known. The abuse ballerinas inflict upon their minds and bodies match or exceed what profession athletes have to endure. This is the place for people able to collapse the focus of their entire lives to a single point; prima ballerina, the best of the company. Almost everything about this art form goes against nature; it is not normal to leap and swirl on the tips of your toes. This deforms the body and can warp the soul of the performers. This story captures this trying experience bringing it to a level that resonates solidly with the audience.

Such an unconventional script as this demands a director of vision, well versed in messing with the minds of the audience. Darren Aronofsky is the perfect choice to helm a film like this. The fellow son of Brooklyn is able to combine visually stunning camera work with psychological twists and turns that originates on the pages of the script but truly take form in the way he presents the story. His previous works ‘π ‘(Pi) and ‘Requiem for a Dream’ both exhibited this directorial style using strange, surreal images to reinforce bizarre twists in the plot. Many attempt such a degree of control but few can even approach the mastery of Aronofsky. All his films to date are definitely taking a walk through the bleakest corns of our minds bringing out the fearful hob goblins that we all carry. His main focused here was begun in his other two major works; the effects of compulsion of a person and how deep and slippery these impulses can be. He has looked a mathematician searching for the meaning of a string of numbers and contrasted addiction to legal and illegal drugs. Here the center of his examination is a young ballerina, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman). On her own Nina is motivated to be the best dancer in the celebrated company she belongs to. She pushes herself through the endless hours of crippling exercises and rehearsals in order to achieve the role that are the Holy Grail for ballerinas, the lead in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. The internal pressure to succeed is monumental but is constantly augmented by the constant pushing by her mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey. Erica is desperate to live out her own failed dreams of being a prima ballerina through her daughter. Nina’s alpha position in the company is challenged by a young upstart, Lily (Mila Kunis). She threatens to replace Nina not only in her lead position in the troupe but also personally in the eyes of the director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). The problem arises in the duality inherent in the role. Nina has the darkly sultry black swan but is unable to match the required innocence Lily brings to the part of the white swan. Nina spirals deeper and deeper into the grips of mental instability. The symptoms come directly out of the DMS VI (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) with the increasing presentation of paranoia, anxiety, hallucination eventually leading to a dissociative personality and ultimately an incredibly filmed psychotic break. One thing about an Aronofsky film; no matter how well you think you understand the flow of the story the conclusion will knock you off your seat. The film brought Ms Portman her first Academy Award, not to mention a new child on the way. Nominations were also earned for the imaginative cinematography, editing and to Aronofsky for his direction. This is simply put one of the most well crafted films I have experienced in many years.

bulletMetamorphosis: A behind-the-scenes documentary with Darren Aronofsky
bulletBehind The Curtain - An inside look at the ballet's influence on the film's costume design and production design
bulletTen Years In The Making - Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky discuss their creative journey, from "preparing for the role" to "dancing with the camera"
bulletCast Profiles - Roles Of A Lifetime - Presented by Fox Movie Channel, stars reflect on their challenging and rewarding characters
bulletBD Live: Go behind the scenes with brand-new exclusive footage
bulletLive Lookup powered by IMDB
bulletDigital Copy

Posted 03/25/11

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