Culture Club Film Review: Black Swan

The reviews have unanimously referred to this film as a “psyco-sexual thriller.” I will admit that I had no idea what that meant. However, after viewing director Darren Aranofsky’s “Black Swan,” I completely get it.

The film follows young ballerina Nina Sayers – portrayed by former Oscar nominee, Natalie Portman – in her struggles to get out of the company of dancers at the New York City Ballet. Early on, we see the dedication and drive that Nina has. When a new production of “Swan Lake” is being cast, we see her determination to be considered a valid choice for the lead role. Of course, that lead role is a demanding one, asking the star to inhabit both personalities of the white (good) and black (evil) swan.

Natalie Portman / IMDb

Nina has no problem with being good. However, her company and director (Vincent Cassel) have serious reservations about casting her in the role, because of her inability to channel the evil side. Complicating matters is that the former star of the ballet company (Winona Ryder) is being forced out.

That is basically the plot, but plot is not what drives “Black Swan.” The film takes a very beautiful, dark, and twisted view of the internal struggle that Nina goes through to become both sides of the lead character. It is those struggles that provide all of the weight. The director twists and turns the screen with each frame.

For a movie with such a simple plot, it is impossible to look away from “Black Swan.” It is scary, mysterious, and shocking. Something is always going on within the frame. Everything you think you are seeing is manipulated and turned on its head. This is a visual stunner that leaves you scratching your head. There were times in the theatre where you could hear a pin drop. From about fifteen minutes in, you are hooked into the thriller – right where Aranofsky wants you.

Portman and Kunis / IMDb

Natalie Portman will probably walk away with a Best Actress Oscar in February. Although I am on team Annette Bening (The Kids are All Right), it would be hard to find fault with a win by Portman. She dips into crazy better than just about anyone in recent film history. Her physical and emotional transformation is shocking.

As Portman’s mother, Barbara Hershey should also receive acclaim. In a time of crazy mothers (Jackie Weaver “Animal Kingdom”, Melissa Leo “The Fighter”, and last year’s Best Supporting Actress’ Monique “Precious”) Hershey’s mother strikes fear in every frame.

If the film receives a supporting actress nomination, it will likely go to “That 70’s Show” star Mila Kunis, who portrays Nina Sayers’ arch rival and mysterious friend. Kunis has already received nominations from the Golden Globes, Broadcast Film Critics, and Screen Actors Guild. I am a little confused why she has been embraced over Hershey, although both actresses do fine work here.

In the end, the film will be admired enough to a Best Picture nomination. There are some issues with it, but it is highly effecting and disturbing. In other words, it’s a great way to spend two hours at the movie theatre. As an added bonus, you won’t be able to get the music of “Swan Lake” out of your head for days.

Grade: B+

Wayne Bell is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Master’s Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.