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Black Swan

Black Swan

By Patrick Samuel • September 29th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
20th Century Fox

Original release date: December 3rd, 2010
Running time: 108 minutes

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin, Andres Heinz
Composer: Clint Mansell

Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder

Black Swan

When I was little my mother had a music box with a little ballerina twirling to the music of Swan Lake. As she spun she would glimpse her own reflection in the mirror on the inner lid, and it seemed like there were always two of them. Until one day I dropped it. The ballerina broke in half and the music would no longer play.

Black Swan reminds me of that music box and the way I would lose myself in its world. Natalie Portman plays Nina, a dancer in a New York City ballet company who’s just won the role of the Swan Queen in a new production of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. As the role requires her to be both the White Swan and the Black Swan, the shy and repressed Nina struggles to find that darker side of herself.

Thomas (Vincent Cassel), her director, pushes her to try and achieve that level perfection. He’s not alone; Nina’s domineering mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) makes sure her daughter never misses a step. There’s also a beautiful new rival, Lily (Mila Kunis) and the competition between these two dancers is what helps the film reach its inevitable, burning climax.

Aronofsky grew up witnessing first hand his own sister’s tough training as a ballet dancer, so the idea for Black Swan had many years to marinate. It was intended as a companion piece to his previous film The Wrestler (2008), since both films embody the idea of what a performer has to go through to achieve the perfect performance. Aronofsky explains:

“Some people call wrestling the lowest of art forms, and some call ballet the highest of art forms, yet there is something elementally the same. Mickey Rourke as a wrestler was going through something very similar to Natalie Portman as a ballerina. They’re both artists who use their bodies to express themselves and they’re both threatened by physical injury, because their bodies are the only tool they have for expression. What was interesting for me was to find these two connected stories in what might appear to be unconnected worlds.”

At times Black Swan can feel like a David Lynch film with its depiction of Nina’s fractured world. It’s a place where doppelgangers roam freely and we’re never quite sure which side of the mirror we’re on. There are moments when Nina tears at herself as the Black Swan struggles to break out. Other scenes are mesmerizing for the raw sexuality and voyeurism they invite us to, not unlike a Lynch film. The club scene which plays out to the sounds of The Chemical Brothers, although a sharp contrast to Nina’s world, is a brilliant juxtaposition of colours and sounds.

Black Swan

Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis spent ten months preparing for their roles and had to undergo intensive ballet training. They give incredible performances, but it’s Portman who the spotlight is on, the camera never leaves her, and in a way we see her digging for perfection as much as Nina does for her role. Winona Ryder as the fading star Beth, who’s too old to dance, reminds us how short the shelf life is for these performers who give their lives to art in return for those fleeting moments of perfection.

The score by Clint Mansell takes Tchaikovsky’s music from Swan Lake to even greater heights. The pieces are haunted with something darker running alongside it, like Nina.

Black Swan was far more amazing, beautiful, terrifying and intoxicating than I expected. Despite it being Lynchy in some respects, the story is told linear and without too many riddles. It also reminded me a little of Lars von Trier’s Dancer In The Dark (2000) and Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but the stamp of Aronofsky’s hand is firmly on it. Visually and emotionally vibrant and dark at times, it’s a film that’s challenging and absorbing for the way it tells us how a person can become obsessed with their struggle for perfection.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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