It’s been awhile since I felt like giving a film a standing ovation, but the mastery of a film like Black Swan makes me want to do just that...

Becoming the Black Swan

It’s been awhile since I felt like giving a film a standing ovation, but the mastery of a film like Black Swan makes me want to do just that. Black Swan just hits so many of the right notes. A solid story, some genuinely creepy scares and a forceful finale give this behind the scenes revision of the ballet classic Swan Lake some serious bite.

Black Swan stars Natalie Portman as a fresh-faced ballerina who is chosen to play the Swan Queen in her company’s winter production of Swan Lake. Though Nina is a natural as the innocent and guileless Swan Queen, she discovers she must also play her nemesis, the seductive and cunning Black Swan who seduces the Swan Queen’s prince and drives her to suicide. The film is the story of Nina’s terrifying journey to embody both roles.

Black Swan has been called a psychosexual thriller for good reason and the film’s sexual tension goes hand in hand with Nina’s creative tension. Under her mother’s strict eye, she works hard to be the perfect dancer her mother never could be. Her movements are precise, controlled, clock-like and she never falters. But her icy perfection leaves no room for the passionate eruption of the Black Swan. Almost virginal, Nina is yearning for release not only physically but creatively. She must open herself up and allow herself to be possessed by the character in the name of her art, something that threatens annihilation.

Our intimacy with Nina’s artistic struggle is heightened by the documentary style film making. The film is just so in your face, you are right there with Nina as she goes to rehearsal, obsessively practices and experiences the terrifying transformation into the Black Swan. The perspective is so intimate that it’s easy to believe the beautiful and vicious reality the camera creates. This belief is helped by the film’s seeming spontaneity. When Nina is talking with her choreographer and interacting with her trainer, the dialogue felt so impromptu and alive. It’s as though we are a fly on the wall watching Nina interact with her creative and athletic support staff. It helps to know that Natalie Portman did her own dancing, which adds another dimension to the reality we are being asked to inhabit.

Black Swan has several jump out scares, but more than anything the terror is gradual. It’s the kind of lazy anxiety that slides down your throat and settles in the pit of your stomach and stays there even after you leave the theater. Part of why Black Swan is powerful is because it borrows horror elements to tell a well-crafted story of suspense. We know that Nina will become the Black Swan, but at what cost? It really reminds me of Silence of the Lambs, which gave a sophisticated and award winning edge to flayed bodies and heads-in-a-jar.

Stylistic graces aside, I was glad to see Winona Ryder playing a role other than Spock’s mom in Star Trek. She plays the washed up former prima ballerina of Nina’s dance company and does bitchy so well. Her alcohol induced hissy fits over being replaced by Nina are both laughable and tragic as the company’s director tells his “little princess” to hold it together. Nina’s mother is similarly terrifying and tragic as she forces her daughter to live out her dreams on the stage.

There are just some films that hit you hard and fast and leave you thinking. Black Swan is one of those films and you should take a look for yourself.

Please leave a comment below.


  1. Very nice review. I just saw this a few hours ago, it's a creepy little number huh.

  2. Thanks Drunketh. It does just stick with you. It's haunting in a beautiful and disturbing way.

  3. I've been avoiding this one since I have this hatred of all things ballet (I know, I'm a cultural hick), but after your review I think I may need to see it.

  4. I know what you mean Pax! I dragged my husband to see it with me and he might have felt the same way at first. I think it ultimately speaks to something beyond the ballerina drama about the plight of the artist in accepting his or her calling and how that might be a destruction or a rebirth.

  5. I rarely go to movie theaters anymore but made an exception for BLACK SWAN, and am so glad I did! You're right on in your review to compare it LAMBS, I felt the same way. Loved Ryder, and Kunis too, who I had previously avoided. Also, "Swan Lake" always sounds ominous to me because it was used in the opening of the Lugosi DRACULA.