Black Swan (2010)

Let me start by saying that my girlfriend wanted to see Black Swan. I went into this movie knowing absolutely nothing about it other than the trailer reminded me of Perfect Blue.

Black Swan Poster


Because this movie is still in theaters, I'll try to avoid spoilers. Black Swan is a psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel. The director of a ballet, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), is creating a production of Swan Lake. He wants to make it raw and real rather than just a run of the mill form-and-function kind of ballet. He holds tryouts within his company for who will play the white and black swans, wanting one ballerina to be both. I have no knowledge of how Swan Lake is normally produced, so I can't comment on this.

Thomas thinks Nina (Natalie Portman) is perfect as the White Swan. She is obsessed with being perfect and practices to the point of hurting herself. He thinks Lily would be perfect as the Black Swan because, although she messes up occasionally, she dances with a visible passion. Thomas gives the role to Nina, but he keeps trying to get her to relax and dancing like she means it rather than as if it's choreographed. This leads Nina believing that she's not perfect and becoming jealous of Thomas's admiration of Lily. This leads to Nina's psychological breakdown.

Black Swan 1


There may be a few light spoilers coming. You've been warned. Although, if you've seen a lot of psychological thrillers before, you'll find the movie pretty predictable. Mostly, the "subtle" foreshadowing will be glaring.

This movie is rife with symbolism to the point of being an English major's wet dream. The woman who is is forced to retire is named "Beth M." Nina steals some of her makeup to be "perfect like her." Later, it's revealed that her name is Beth MacIntyre, which screamed MacBeth at me. Also, Nina's fingers keep bleeding no matter how many times she washes them.

Nina is always wearing white. Lily is always wearing black. When at a club, Nina wouldn't relax, so Lily offered her drugs. Nina refused. Eventually, Nina needs to change her shirt, and Nina has a spare black shirt. After changing, Nina, now wearing black, accepts the drugs.

The entire movie is a play on the Swan Lake motif. At the end of the movie, Nina killed herself in a jealous rage, much like the White Swan.

Although I may be stretching it, I'd also argue that it's possible the Nina's mother is in Nina's head. Her mother constantly stops Nina from achieving what she wants, even if it is intended to help Nina. The mother represents Nina's inhibitions. At one point, Nina masturbated, but saw her mother and stopped right before climax. That was probably the most extreme bit.

There's a lot more than just all of this, but it's easy to spot. The mental breakdown story has been done. The reason why I'd recommend Black Swan is because of its execution. There are some subtleties of the movie that warrant more than one viewing. The effects are done well and help to draw you in to the story, not just to have special effects. Although it's about ballet, which I consider extremely boring, the movie is based much more on character development. The characters are relatable and fleshed out. They aren't just archetypes playing a role.

Nina becomes a better dancer throughout the film. In a way she becomes "better than perfect," which is a vital plot point. I don't see a difference because a ballet is a ballet to me, but the reactions of the characters let me know her progress in a way that wasn't too jarring.

Black Swan 2

Final Verdict - 4/5

I'd recommend Black Swan for people who are interested in movies with a very character driven storyline. It's easy to follow while still intricate enough to remain interesting. Although I was able to pick out a lot of the foreshadowing and symbolism, others did not see it immediately but still agreed with my thoughts. We all still enjoyed the film.

If you're going to see this movie in hopes that it is like the trailer, you may be disappointed. The trailer makes the film look much more like a horror than it is. Also, if you've seen Perfect Blue (my expectation), this movie is still worth watching. There is a little overlap, but most of that is the common ground that defines the psychological thriller genre. Both involve psychological breakdowns but in very different ways.

There's a lesbian sex scene with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. So there's that, too.

Image sources: The top image is the theatrical release poster. All other images are from the official trailer.