Weekend Roundup: ‘Black Swan’ review

Summer is certainly a busy month and this past weekend was another one jam-packed w/ activities. Last weekend I mentioned about the Fill Their Plate Run 5K/10K, well this Saturday morning my friends and I volunteered at a meal-packing event for Kids Against Hunger, a humanitarian food-aid organization which mission is to significantly reduce the number of hungry children throughout the world. There were about 60 something people in our shift and we packed about 12,000 meals to be sent to Haiti.

We didn’t have time to make it to the cinema but managed to watch Black Swan which I put in our Netflix queue quite a while ago. But before I get to my review, I’d like to remind everyone of an upcoming blog-a-thon called Morality Bites, spearheaded by my pals Ronan of Filmplicity and Julian of DirtyWithClass blogs. It’s a blog-a-thon that ask the burning question:

Does a filmmaker have a moral responsibility?
The rules are simple: Publish a post on your blog in response to this question or simply post your response on the page wall and email us a link to your post.

Click on the graphic to go to the Facebook page for more information or sign up on the FB wall. Hope you all will participate this Wednesday.

Now, on to the review…


Obsession is a dangerous thing… even more lethal when you are obsessed with perfection. Nina Sayers is a beautiful ballet dancer who nabs the much-coveted lead role of a new production of Swan Lake. She’s perfect as the delicate White Swan, her teacher repeatedly tells her, but struggles to pull off the darker, more provocative part of the Black Swan. The stage performance tells of a tragic story where the Black Swan seduces the White Swan’s Prince which leads to the heartbroken White Swan killing herself.

This is the role of a lifetime — and like everyone in the grueling profession, Nina’s life is completely consumed with ballet and the dream of being cast in such a prestigious production. To make matters worse, she lives with a controlling mother, Erica, who was a former ballerina herself. Nina’s practically suffocated by her mother’s constant barrage of questions and demands, but at the same time, she is all she has because Nina’s got zero social life outside of her rigorous training. The ultimate tragic figure, director Darren Aronofsky takes us on a psychological ‘thrill of terror’ ride as Nina descends into madness the more she embodies the sinister side of the Black Swan.

Nina’s life is chock-full of complicated relationships — with her mother, her instructor, her main rival Lily, and ultimately with herself. As Leroy astutely whispers to her just before she goes on stage, “The only person standing in your way is you. It’s time to let her go. Lose yourself.” Her relationship with the free-spirited Lily is particularly intriguing. Nina is jealous of Lily because she easily personifies the sensual nature of the Black Swan, whilst at the same time being fascinated as well as threaten by her.

I’ve been warned by several people that this is a movie that messes with your mind… the line is blurred between reality and dreams/nightmares, one can’t tell when the illusions ends and reality begins. It’s a fair warning as the movie is not only spooky but can be frustrating at times as we’re always guessing what’s in Nina’s head and what actually happens.

This film was nominated for a slew of awards including Best Picture Oscar. After seeing this, I do think the accolades are well deserved. I was quite astounded that the movie had a measly $13 million budget as the production quality made it look more expensive than that. Aronofsky depicts the enigmatic world of ballet with a keen eye and the whole camera movement, choreography, the music by Clint Mansell and even use of color scheme captures the eerie and spooky mood throughout.

The casting is spot on all around as well. Parisian thespian Vincent Cassel is perfectly creepy but brilliant teacher, Barbara Hershey as the control freak mother, and even Winona Ryder as the cast-aside Swan Lake star Beth is unforgettable in her small role. Props for the casting agent for finding actresses who look believable as ballerinas. Mila Kunis is spot on as the sexy Lily who’s quite the comic relief in the movie. Her role the antithesis of the high-strung Nina though I don’t know if it’s really much of a stretch for Kunis as I feel she’s played this type of roles before.

As for Portman, she impressively carries this movie as the tortured soul protagonist. The amount of physical and emotional effort she puts into the role is nothing short of astounding. Her melancholic face suits the role well, as it seems that throughout the film she’s confined into looking either nervous or frightened. But there is one scene during her stage performance where she has this sinister look on her face as she becomes ‘possessed’ by the Black Swan. I’ve never seen that side of Portman before, and that last fifteen minutes of the movie really floored me [as I was already at the edge of my seat the whole time!]

So, did I enjoy the movie? Well, now that is an another question entirely. This is one of those movies I truly appreciate and am glad I’ve seen it because it was really well-crafted. At the same time, because there are lots of scenes that are extremely uncomfortable to watch, I don’t think I want to see this again. I find the world of ballet quite fascinating – I took a couple of lessons as a wee kid [fortunately I never dreamed of becoming a ballerina!] and have enjoyed a few ballet performances in my life. Yet because of the high suspense and state of mind when watching the film, I couldn’t quite enjoy the beauty of those performances… it’s as if Nina’s persistent state of twitchy restlessness rubs off on me as I keep anticipating something bad is about to happen.

Still, I think Black Swan lives up to the hype and for that I’m giving it a high grade. It’s one of those movies that lingers long after the end credits, oh and even the end credits segment itself is beautiful and if I had seen this at the cinema, it would be worth staying around for.

4 out of 5 reels

So what did you see this weekend? I feel like I’m the last person to see this movie, so most likely you’ve seen ‘Black Swan’ already.  If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

68 thoughts on “Weekend Roundup: ‘Black Swan’ review

  1. HA I am glad you saw this Ruth. No answer me this. If you had seen the film completely blind, as in, not knowing it was more of a psychological thriller than a straight film about the world of ballet, would you have enjoyed it more or less?

    I loved the film but would have loved to have not known anything about it, making it more of a shock when we start to see the things happen for Portman.

    Just a though


    1. Hi Custard!! Hmmm, if I hadn’t known about anything about the film, I don’t know if I’d have a different feeling about it. I don’t think the fact that I knew what’s happening to Nina ruined the experience for me as I was still spooked and surprised a lot while watching this. I was so tired by the end of the film as I was so tense, ahah.

  2. Aronofsky has a knack for creating really flat-out amazing climaxes in his films, most notably with this and Requiem for a Dream. I love the finale to this movie, as much as I love the rest of it, though it certainly isn’t the most accessible (though the inaccessible ones tend to be better, don’t they?) movie. Psychological thriller is putting it lightly. A great movie, though you really have to see it in the cinema.

    1. I’m not familiar w/ Aronofsky’s work actually, his stuff are generally not my cup of tea at all. I saw this one out of sheer curiosity and because I love the world of ballet but I don’t think I’d see Requiem. In fact, I got a haircut yesterday and my stylist who loved Black Swan made me promise not to watch Requiem as it’s so hugely disturbing. I don’t think I can handle seeing this one in the theater.

    1. Thanks Sam. Oh I think if I can handle it, I’m sure you can. I’m like the biggest chicken on the planet, but I had my blanket up for most of the scary scenes but I still did see one particularly frightening scene that I wish I had my eyes closed!

        1. It’s not very scary at all, except maybe for that scene where disgusting bugs are eating at her and we see the inside of her head or one brief scene where her legs snapped in 4 places and instantly rot in front of her, complete with stakes impaled through her arms. Yes, not scary at all.

  3. Great review, Ruth!!!

    I am with you, tho I think it is a great movie but not the kind I will watch over and over again…Black Swan left me with awed feeling. Great script supported with great actresses/actors.

    I have watched Paul this weekend 🙂 Will write my review next Monday (as this Monday is for my book wrap-up)

    1. @ Novia, he.. he… I know you like spooky thrillers/horror stuff so I knew you’d enjoy this one.

      As for Paul, well I was anticipating it when I first heard about it as I like Pegg/Frost, but after reading some of the reviews that it was practically insulting Christianity, I don’t think I care to watch it. I just don’t think I’d enjoy a movie that blatantly insults other people’s faith.

  4. oh yes it lingers

    I really liked the movie and I do so want to see it again.

    I knew from the beginning that it was a psychological thriller but there were just some jumpy moments in there you almost think its some kind of a slasher flick and seeing it in the cinema made it all the more great.

    And I really liked the scene near the end in the dressing room. The whole realisation. Just heartbreaking.

    1. I think watching it in the cinema would be a much more frightening experience that I’m afraid I won’t be able to handle. I don’t have nerves of steel like you 😀

      But yeah, the third part of this movie is a shocker. I sort of knew about Nina’s fate in the end but still, it was still shocking to watch.

  5. I hated it.

    But you bringing up the $13 million budget reminds me of how Darren A had to struggle to get this film made. That he succeeded was a minor miracle; that it made something like $300 million worldwide was a major one.

    1. Hi Rich, well I won’t hold it against you as I wasn’t sure which camp I’d be going into this 🙂 What did you loathe about it if you don’t mind me asking?

      Well, I’m not surprised Darren struggled getting this made, it’s not exactly an easy thing to market.

  6. When i saw this post in my email i was afraid you wouldn’t have liked it, but i’m glad it got a high grade

    I do think this movie should have won for best director. I finally got around to seeing The Kings Speech recently and while it was a great movie(I’m not really hung up on it winning best picture), i feel Aronofsky did more visually in Black Swan and thus should have gotten the award for best director.

    And thanks for the heads-up about the blogathon. It is kind of ironic that you put the reminder in a review of a movie like Black Swan.

    1. Why are you afraid? He..he.. you sound like you work for Aronofsky or something 😀 Well, while I think it was well-crafted, I’m still glad The King’s Speech won because I think it was a much more enjoyable film for me and just because it wasn’t dark and twisted, it doesn’t mean it was a ‘lesser’ film. I also think acting-wise they’re equally good.

      Yeah, I realize the irony, especially since I know Ronan didn’t give this movie a high praise 🙂

      1. I just figured you wouldn’t like it. And its not KIngs Speech winning best picture that i think is undeserved, i just think in the Best Director Category Aronofsky should have won. I feel Best Director should be more about the visuals than the movie as a whole.

  7. Ooh, I’m glad you finally got to see and review this! I am getting ready for work, but will read it later today! Glad to see the review has a high score!

    Have a great day, Ruth!

    1. Hi T. Well, I have to be fair when I give my reviews. Even though I don’t ‘love’ it, I still think it’s well-crafted and thus I think it deserves a good rating. One viewing is more than enough for me though.

  8. Perhaps it’s just me being a guy and not being well versed in ballet, but I thought Aronofsky explored similar territory and did it better in “The Wrestler.” In both films I see to athletes who absolutely torture themselves for their passion. Portman was outstanding, but I thought overall it was just OK. I’m a meathead and former wrestling fan so me want HULK SMASH instead of pretty lady dance.

    1. Hi Markus, I heard great things about The Wrestler and my hubby liked it. But as a girl, the ballet thing appeals to me more of course. Btw, I didn’t even notice your spelling error 🙂

  9. Ted S.

    I really liked the film, Aronofsky knows how to make an intense thriller and yeah I don’t recommend Requiem for a Dream for you, I still think it’s his best film and the last 20 minutes or so of that movie was quite intense. More intense than Black Swan. I hope he gets the green light to do his next film about Noah’s Ark, it would be nice for him to make a different type of film. All of his films were about addiction or obsession.

    I watched M: I-3 last night after I saw the trailer of the fourth one, it still bugs the heck out of me. Let’s hope Brad Bird can deliver a fun action/spy flick this December, the trailer got me very excited but then again I always get excited every time I see trailers for new spy flicks.

    1. Yep, I think based on what I’ve read about ‘Requiem’ I know it’s definitely not for me. As for Noah’s Ark, I don’t think I’ll be watching it. As a person of faith I think it’s disrespectful to want to create a film based on a Biblical story and not make it a religious film. I mean, what is the purpose of that? If you don’t want to believe in the Bible, fine, then why make a film based on that?

      So the M:I 4 trailer is out? I didn’t hear anything about it.

        1. Ah I see, no wonder there’s no mention on Twitter on this. I’m not hugely anticipating this so I’ll just wait until the official one comes out. I’m curious to see how Brad Bird will handle all the action, too.

          1. Ted S.

            Yeah I just tweeted the link yesterday but since it’s unofficial, I’m sure the studio people would hope it would spread like the “leaked” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did. I think the official American trailer should be out later this week since Paramount’s other big film Transformers 3 opens this Weds.

        1. @ Rich, yeah the dramatic potential is obviously there. I guess I’ll just reserve further criticism until at least we see a trailer. It’s a free country, filmmakers can make any movie they want, and I’m free to choose NOT to watch ’em.

  10. PrairieGirl

    Don’t worry, Ruth, you aren’t the last one to see BS… I’m not interested at all. However, I COULD watch Jim Carey’s SNL sketch/parody of it over and over, it’s a real hoot!

    1. Oh, I saw that one on TV last weekend. Yeah, that was a hoot indeed. That Bill Hadey as the dance instructor was hilarious, too.

  11. Ruth, you might give “The Red Shoes” a shot. It was made in 1948 and this one drew a lot of inspiration from it. But since it was made in 1948, it’s much less “in your face”.

  12. So you finally got to see Black Swan 😀 You say that you give it a high grade because it lives up to the hype but yet you didn’t enjoy it that much… that’s cheating!

    1. Also, there has been plenty of heated discussion about this on AM but let me say that again. I saw it twice (and liked it a bit more the second time) but I still feel it’s a relatively cold and distant spectacle. Much like Vincent Cassel constantly admonishing Portman for being technically perfect yet emotionally empty, the movie ironically suffers the same fate. And as you stated above, Portman basically has the same expression on her face the entire time.

      1. Oh I agree w/ you, it’s definitely not a ‘warm’ movie, kind of like Hanna, it’s a technically-proficient film but not one I’d want to suffer through a second time. But perhaps that is what the filmmaker wants us to feel — cold, distant and emotionally drained — in order for us to relate to Nina? It shows the brutality of obsession, and that it’s not ‘pretty’ and if that is indeed the message, then Aronofsky indeed achieved that.

        As for the expression thing, she does have the same expression the entire time, except for that one scene I mentioned (and in the reflections in the mirror when she sees herself). I still give props to Natalie for seemingly ‘lost’ in her character like she did… man, she could be seriously messed up after doing this. So maybe that explains why she chose two really light-hearted movies like Thor and Your Highness right after this one.

    2. Cheating?? How is that? I don’t enjoy some of the scenes because they made me feel uncomfortable, but it doesn’t mean that those scenes weren’t well-done/well-acted. Now that I think of it, perhaps I should remove the grade altogether like you did w/ the Tree of Life review, but now someone could argue that doing that is a cop out, ahah.

  13. To me, the most disturbing thing about this movie was Nina’s relationship with her mother. Nina is a grown woman, starring in a professional ballet company, and she acts like she’s about 12 or so. Complete lack of actualization…the shadow she’s never dealt with slowly drives her insane.

    This movie also completely changed the way i see ballet and ballet dancers. I remember sitting there eating my popcorn, realizing I could count most of their ribs, vertebrae, etc. Nina’s morning routine of cracking her deformed feet and other joints really showed another side I never knew about.

    I loved Black Swan when i saw it in the theatre and thought it deserved its awards nominations, but the fact that it’s not even in the queue is a comment in itself…I guess I’m not that curious how well it would do on the second viewing.

    I think your volunteer efforts are awesome Ruth. you are such an inspiration to me 🙂

    1. Oh I know! She seems like a perfectly nice and caring mother at first but after that, oh dear! It’s really sad that Nina’s mom seems to blame her for ‘ruining’ here career which is not only unfair but it really messes up the girl’s self confidence. I think everything in her life drives her crazy, but the unforgiving profession she’s in doesn’t help matters.

      I hear ya, Paula, it really makes you think differently about that world of ballet. I’m fascinated by it since a wee kid as my mom enrolled me in a ballet class (though I was kinda a chubby kid, what was she thinking?? :D) and I even met some of the dancers of this famous Russian ballet group when I was in high school, and I used to think how lucky they are to get to travel to places, etc. But man, it’s such a grueling endeavor! That routine of cracking the deformed feet thing you mentioned, I couldn’t even bear watching that!

      I’m glad I didn’t see it on the big screen, I probably will have nightmares to this day!

      Awww, thank you doll… it really is a lot of fun! If there’s a meal-packing organization in your town you should try it. You can do it with a group of friends, too, two hours went by fast when you’re having fun.

      1. this poor girl, right? between the mom and the job, plus whatever chemical imbalance she’s got going on…she’s really behind the 8 ball.

        i had ballet lessons too, i too was chubby. i liked it i think but i didn’t last long. Swimming was my thing. i’d like to try ballet now, just for the exercise (as you say it’s grueling) but i’d feel weird going into a beginning class with the 5 year old kids. i guess that’s why we have Pilates 🙂

        honestly when she was pulling out the feathers and all that, i watched a lot of it through my fingers.

      2. I actually read on imdb that some people think that the mother was just a long running hallucination, for two reasons. The mother had the same outfit in all of her scenes, and when Mila came in during the argument her reaction could be interpreted as her being surprised at Nina talking to herself

        1. Hmmm, that’s interesting, I never thought of Nina’s mom as part of her hallucination because I think when Lily came over that night and saw how controlling her mother was, I think that part was real. That’s why she asked Nina to come w/ her to the club to loosen up. I think part of her descend to madness is because of her mother’s attitude toward her, so she’s not merely a projection of her imagination.

  14. Ooh, Castor is right about Portman’s face! Just throwing that out there (although it bears no weight on the score you should give the film! hahaha)

    I saw the film twice too, and while I understood more the second time around, I still enjoyed it most the first time! The awe, surprise, shock, dismay, and terror/intrigue the first time was the best!

    A well written review Ruth! I understand why you didn’t like it per se as much, but I do have to agree with Castor that I wish you would’ve let that influence you more on your score. BUT if your argument is the fact that the scene was so well done that it disturbed you, then the score has higher merit. IMO! 🙂

  15. I clearly remember seeing this film and being completely blown away by it. It stands in the same line with other films that left me speechless. I re-watched it and the effect was the same. I gave it the highest rating, i.e. 5 stars, at my blog, but I feel it deserves even more. I utterly loved your review and some things you said about the film are just the same that I thought about it. For instance, that it was the role of lifetime for Natalie. It is true.

  16. I knew exactly how it was going to end because of everything that happened in the play, would happen in her life. But it was the actual ride that won me over because I was left wondering the whole time, what was real, what wasn’t, and just what the hell is going on. Good Review!

  17. I’m so glad you liked it. Since I bought it on DVD I have fallen deeper and deeper in love with it. Every time I watch it I discover something new. It was such a well made film, especially for it’s budget.

    Choice review!

  18. Hi Ruth

    Don’t worry – I still have not seen “Black Swan” either. In fact, I just saw “The King’s Speech” only because it was part of the in-flight entertainment on my recent trip.

    This weekend, my movie going consisted of “Submarine” and “Leaving” with Kristin Scott Thomas. Kind of enjoyed the prior – not feeling the love with the latter …

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  20. I was surprised to see you give this such a hgh rating Ruth but when I read your reasoning I can’t disagree with you, though I empathise with your discomfort over a few scenes in the film. These seemed out of place for me and didn’t really add anything to the suspense or the feeling of heightened paranoia. For that reason I wouldn’t watch it again either, though like you I can appreciate the film’s technique even if I don’t enjoy the performance. A bit like Ballet I guess 🙂

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