BLACK SWAN

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Movies Eddie McMullen Jr. Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.
Black Swan
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BLACK SWAN - 2010
Paramount Pictures
Rated: USA: R

A ballerina dances on stage. The other dancers around her go through their motions, and then turn threatening. This is the dream of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman: MARS ATTACKS!, V FOR VENDETTA). She lives in a small apartment in New York City with her Mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey: THE ENTITY, RIDING THE BULLET). Erica makes Nina breakfast consisting of one boiled egg yolk and half a pink grapefruit. They speak in asides and chants, the language of two people who are intrinsically known to each other. Nina tells her Mother of the dream but paints a prettier face on it.

Soon Nina is at work, warming up with a murder of other ballerinas as if waiting for the birdseed to fall. A tall man enters from a door overlooking the practice floor, and descends the stairs to walk among the young girls and women. He is Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel: THE CRIMSON RIVERS, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, IRREVERSIBLE, THE RECKONING), the director of the ballet. He walks among the dancers as they go through their paces. Some he taps on the shoulder. When he returns to the stairs he tells them what those taps meant. Some of them will continue to exercise. Others will be part of this season's latest ballet, Swan Lake.

Black Swan, swan poster

All of the young ballerinas gossip among themselves, their chatty, catty inhumanity sweating from their mouths. Nina, however, stays apart from the clique. All of them are competing against each other to lead the play as The White Swan, which is the ballerina who must also play The Black Swan.

Through all of this we discover what an emotionally fragile person Nina is. Like all of her top classmates, she unrealistically, but obsessively focuses on the perfection of dancing. As director Thomas tells her, she is technically accurate as the cold White Swan, but too emotionally void to play the passionate Black Swan.

This sends Nina into paroxisms of tears, as she attempts to tightly control herself while emotionally bursting. Her life is dancing. It's how her Mother raised her and it's the goal of every person she knows, because Nina has no life outside of the ballet.

Sitting on the floor of the theater, alone and silently practicing, Nina's reverie is broken by the sound of smashing glass. The star dancer of the ballet, Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder: BEETLEJUICE, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, DRACULA [1992], ALIEN RESURRECTION, STAR TREK [2009]) is tearing up her dressing room in a screaming, crying rage. She confronts the silent Nina with a snarl, and storms away. Dressing room abandoned, Nina walks among the wreckage and steals a few seemingly trivial things.

Later, as she makes her way home, Nina imagines that she sees herself, dressed in black, passing her by.

Black Swan Natalie Portman

Erica is a compassionate shoulder to cry upon, but she is also delicately overbearing. As fragile in personality and emotion as her 25 year old daughter, she commiserates with Nina as if she were a child of 12. Nina goes to sleep on her bed, surrounded by her fluffy stuffed animal toys.

Nina, sensing that she needs to prove herself as an adult capable of the role, uses Beth's lipstick to make herself up and approaches Thomas, hoping to explain why she should be given another chance.

BLACK SWAN is about self-destructive obsession, something that fascinates director Darren Aronofsky. Darren is obsessed with obsession, revisting this single theme throughout his career in all of his movies.

While Nina competes with the other women she already knows, a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis: PIRANHA [TV], AMERICAN PSYCHO II, THE BOOK OF ELI) fresh from San Francisco enters the picture. "She's imprecise but believable." Thomas tells Nina. Nina stops worrying about the other precision trained women she trains with, to focus her fears and interest on Lily. Nina's earlier minor hallucination slowly develops into increasingly nightmarish visions as, striving for unattainable perfection and crippled by self-doubt, they tear her world apart.

The screenplay is a miracle of writing thanks to a story by Andres Heinz, adapted into a screenplay by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin. The miracle here is how little experience these writers have had, how well they worked together to create such a great script of minimal writing that allows the director and actors to tell so much. Understand that I don't know if they were all chummy together or fought their way through every page. I'm saying they worked well together because the screenplay works wonderfully. This team left so much quiet in the hands of the director and actors, and these visual moments took on a life of their own, creating not only the mood, but the story and characterizations, driving it all forward. Ably assisting them is Darren's longtime film making partner, Cinematographer, Mathew Libatique (Pi, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, PHONE BOOTH, GOTHIKA, INSIDE MAN, THE NUMBER 23, IRON MAN [1 & 2]) who shot BLACK SWAN using Arriflex Super 16mm film and Canon 7D HD cameras.

BLACK SWAN is a powerful movie about the lives and dreams of ballet dancers: Something that wouldn't normally concern me. Yet Darren, Mark, Andres, John, Natalie, Vincent, Barbara, Mila, Mathew and the rest, make it all captivating, playing against our expectations. The powerful music of Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, as well as additional music by Clint Mansell (Pi, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, EVERY NIGHT THE SAME THING, DOOM, MOON), brings it all together in an extraordinary, captivating piece of debilitating terror.

4 Shriek Girls

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This review copyright 2010 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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