Black Swan

Advertising for a complex film must be a difficult task. On the one hand you have to highlight an aspect of the film that will draw an audience. On the other, you don’t want to give too much or choose the wrong feature that may turn people away. Black Swan, for me, had a double-sided advertising – trailers vs. word-of-mouth – campaign much like the story itself.


Ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) has such a strong desire to be the perfect Swan Queen in the upcoming rendition of Swan Lake that she is overcome by personal demons and eventually becomes her role personified. The pressure from her director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), overbearing mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey) and a competing ballerina, Lily (Mila Kunis), push Nina to the brink.

Director Darren Aronofsky beautifully orchestrates the dual nature of the film and he (along with his crew, of course) deserves all the praise for making Swan a worthwhile film. Throughout I had trouble interpreting my reactions to the film as hate or love, similar to the way Nina tries to balance the pure White Swan and the devious Black Swan. There is a constant aesthetic opposition in the scenery with black and white showcasing Nina’s mental anguish, which is the ultimate guide to her mental stability – and your emotions.

The problem I had with the film ultimately came down to the characters. As mentioned, there was certain advertising for Black Swan that focused on the immense pressure Nina felt from Thomas, her mother and the “intense” competition with Lily. While each played a factor in her mental deterioration, none played as big a role as her own expectations for perfection. I was never convinced that Nina was ever sane. She was consumed by the role as Swan Queen, but she never had a stable grasp on reality to begin with, so her digression doesn’t come as a shock, even if she was such a reserved person beforehand. Portman may have given a performance that would make an unknown actress into a star, but I never felt that she had to make a stretch beyond timid, impressionable ballerina. This is where the film became a conundrum.

Watching Swan you become so focused on viewing the world through Nina’s eyes that you begin to lose sight of what is actually occurring. Aronofsky does an excellent job keeping the film moving from Nina’s perspective and making sure the audience is just as confused as she is. You start to feel as exhausted by her ordeal as she does, but once you can separate yourself, you cannot decide whether you like it or not. To me, that is the brilliant aspect of Black Swan in that we are incapable of truly liking – or hating – such a twisted rendition of the famous ballet. The film is simply artistically brilliant.

Black Swan is the kind of movie that, by the end, takes something from you and you don’t know if you are angry, sad, impressed, confused, or empty. The only thing you know is something changed and you have no idea how or when it did. I can’t recommend seeing it because I am still conflicted, despite the excellent production. If you do decide to watch Black Swan, make sure you are positive and have no hesitation in viewing it. Otherwise, you’ll just get punched in the gut and be left wondering: why?

  1. I absolutely loved this film when it came out, but you are absolutely correct that all the promotions did little for the film.

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