The plot revolves around a production of Tchaikovsky‘s Swan Lake ballet by a prestigious New York City company. The production requires a ballerina to play both the innocent and fragile White Swan, for which the committed dancer Nina (Portman) is a perfect fit, as well as the dark and sensual Black Swan, which are qualities embodied by the new arrival Lily (Kunis). When the two dancers compete for the part, the pressure causes Nina to gradually lose her tenuous grip on reality as she descends into a living nightmare…
The film premiered as the opening film for the 67th Venice International Film Festival on September 1, 2010. In the United States it opened nationwide on December 17. Black Swan received critical praise upon its release, particularly for Portman’s performance and Aronofsky’s direction, and was a very significant box office success, grossing $329 million worldwide. The film received five Academy Award nominations and Portman won the Best Actress award for the film, as well as many other Best Actress awards in several guilds and festivals, while Aronofsky was nominated for Best Director. In addition, the film itself received a nomination for Best Picture.
This psychological drama about a highly strung ballerina trying to get in touch with her ‘dark side’ pirouettes its way into the horror genre thanks to some grotesque characterisations and a liberal sprinkling of gory shocks. Melodramatic to the point of absurdity, Black Swan is Dario Argento’s Opera meets Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls with a dash of Suspiria, and if that doesn’t sound like fun to you, I give up.
Rather as audiences cheer the squishy transformations in John Carpenter’s The Thing and then squeak with dismay when a character’s thumb is cut with a scalpel, Black Swan shocks the viewer with hideously specific physical horrors centred around the punishment that ballet dancers inflict upon their bodies. With ripped cuticles, shattered toenails, and feet transforming into webbed flippers, the film is guaranteed to elicit groans and winces, building to a truly nightmarish image of self-harm best seen without prior warning. Threats to the heroine’s sanity include Nina’s mother (Hershey), a smothering monster just a wart away from full-blown witchery, and lascivious rival Lily (Kunis), at first appealingly seductive but to Nina’s paranoid gaze more and more wickedly predatory.
The underlying themes of perfectionism versus inspiration, and freedom versus control, are hardly subjected to complex scrutiny, but if you can accept the word of Vincent Cassel’s sexually improper dance impresario that this flap of the arms is ‘too stiff’ while that flick of the wrist is ‘letting go’, then you’re whisked into the dark fantasy of the film. A brash, deliciously camp nightmare, with a malicious sense of fun lurking beneath its poker-faced study of the torment of artistic expression, Black Swan earns its horror wings thanks to its amalgam of madness, emotional confinement and the grubby reality of bodily torture underlying the feminine art of the ballerina.
Stephen Thrower, MOVIES & MANIA
“The horror isn’t some monster in the dark. It is all around you, perhaps even waiting to consume you from within. Black Swan takes the essence of all horror films and gives it new life. In all good horror there are several points at which a potential victim must flee the safety of her hiding place for a chance to survive the night.” Dread Central
“So while the story might be a predictable one and its conclusion inevitable to a fault, the film more than makes up for it with uniformly excellent performances and some impressive production values. By borrowing from Cronenberg and Polanski and filtering it through his own skewed vision, Aronofsky has crafted a very well made film.” Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop!
“Mila Kunis plays Lily perfectly, and the scenes of debauchery and passion between her and Nina are frighteningly intense. Every single character is multi-dimensional, and it’s hard to draw the line between fantasy and reality. Although slightly uncomfortable to watch at times, Black Swan is a truly great film.” Bring the Noise