Black Swan: A More Pointless, Female Version of The Wrestler

A lot of people may think I'm entirely off-base with this review. First, they may think this because I didn't like the film. Second, they may think that my comparison to The Wrestler is inaccurate. Third, they may think that I'm failing to understand the subtext of a metaphorical film. Read on to find out for yourself.

Black Swan is quite similar to Darren Aronofsky's previous Oscar bait, The Wrestler. Both films are about self-destructive performers who can't help but push themselves to the edge in seek of something intangible - perfection, a fleeting taste of the limelight, meaning behind their work, catharsis. What's the difference? The Wrestler is about a guy that everybody knows, the person struggling with drug or alcohol addictions, who means well but can't get it right. Black Swan, on the other hand, is not grounded in realism with characters we're sadly familiar with. Instead, the young female lead is just plain crazy. Black Swan is a horror film after all, while The Wrester is straight drama.

Oh, the stressful life of a dancer who lives with her mom and has no real responsibilities.

There's nothing subtle or incredibly unique about Aronofsky's story. In fact, early buzz around the internets claimed that the film was a remake of the classic Japanese anime, Perfect Blue. Indeed, Arononfsky did purchase the rights to Perfect Blue so that he could recreate the bathtub scream that is now famous in Requiem for a Dream. Now that I've seen both films, I would never call Black Swan a remake, but they are definitely very similar stories. Nina, a dedicated ballet dancer, strives to obtain a sought after role that embodies both the White Swan and Black Swan in "Swan Lake." Slowly, Nina's innocence is devolved as she becomes more and more like the Black Swan character. This dissent is one of paranoia, psychosexuality, and self-inflicted violence. But I'm sure you already know that. 

Black Swan Reviews
I get this strange feeling that I have an alter-ego following me around.

My biggest issue with Black Swan is the sheer pointlessness of it all. What message was being communicated by this film? Why create yet another evil twin doppleganger story? We've all seen Fight Club, so we know the drill. Only, Black Swan doesn't try to hide the duality, nor does it offer anything subtle about the psychology of Nina's character. Everything is laid out in the open. Every scene is in your face. It's like watching a 10th grade literature class's explanation of symbolism. So Nina plays a part where she has to be the White Swan and Black Swan, but the Black Swan character is hard for her to dance because she is so sweet and innocent. But wait, as she becomes more violent and sexual in her real life, she is able to fully embrace the darker role. Given the complexity of Aronofsky's previous films, I was immensely disappointed by the elementary story.

If the plot had been more complex and Nina's transition been more subtle, I probably would have enjoyed the movie more. Perhaps if there were more mystery behind the story, it would have also helped. I would have liked to see some suspicion over whether or not Nina was being manipulated or whether or not someone was trying to steal her role. I find that when the audience is secretly allowed into the paranoid fantasy, a film becomes so much more impacting. Instead, Black Swan is so literal and obvious it in its symbolism that it hurts. While some moments were certainly cringe worthy, many of the CGI swan bits had me laughing. And I wasn't the only one in the theatre that found it to be silly.

On the plus side, Natalie Portman's performance is stellar. I can't think of anyone else that deserves an Oscar more. Granted, I haven't seen every single dramatic indie film that came out in 2010, but Portman is perfect in this film. All other actors were great, with the exceptions of Winona Ryder and Mila Kunis. Neither of them were bad, but I would have liked to see some other actors in their roles. I do not envy any performer who had to go toe to toe with Portman in this film.

If only she had the munchies, then we could rule craziness out of the diagnosis here.

Additionally, the sound design was fantastic. In Aronofsky tradition, sound and music play a large role in the film and they work splendidly. In some scenes, sound tells more of the story than anything else. It's only when the sound design is transformed into bold visuals that the film becomes less interesting. I did not care for the visual style of the film. Sure, the costume design and makeup were great, but the cinematography was too similar to The Wrestler. It just didn't fit the world of the film, nor did the cinematography devolve to match Nina's descent. It starts off in a loose, handheld (oh so intentionally indie) style and hardly wavers from that design. I would have liked to see a graceful, poetic camera slowly downgraded to a raw, gritty, shaky camera.

At the end of the day, I didn't get anything from Black Swan. There's nothing new here - not even stylistically. Although, I appear to be in the minority with this opinion. So tell me why I'm wrong...or agree with me to make me feel better.


  1. Good review. I'll not disagree with any of your words. Black Swan had some really good parts and it wasn't horrible... but I'm not giving an A+ like a lot of people out there.

    Love Perfect Blue though. A+++ for Perfect Blue.

  2. Now every time i think of the movie my brain gets so pissed it automatically thinks of the scene in Happy Gilmore when hes in the bath tub and says "what are you looking at swan!" and i am transported to a happier place.

  3. I'm kinda there with you. I thought the direction and acting were excellent but the screenplay needed some work. From the first scene of the film I thought - "Oh, she's a bit messed up" and then the film proves that point with very little in the way of misdirection or subplot. I wanted to know even more about her relationship with her mother and see some of those demons get exposed.

    It was very much a one-note movie.

  4. I think my love of this flick stems from Portman's perfomance and me being a Aronofsky fan. Something funny - you should see SNL's Black Swan parody with Jim Carrey from last week if you get a chance. It had me in tears. Lastly, from your pic comment, I kept asking my wife during the film how old Portman's character was and if her backup dancer gig was enough to support her financially. See what uselessness goes on in my head sometimes?

  5. jervaise brooke hamsterJanuary 11, 2011 at 9:54 PM

    I whole-heartedly agree with you Becky, i think Darren Aronofsky is a pretentious fart and his films are highbrow elitist dog-shit.

  6. Drunketh, I didn't really care much for Perfect Blue either. I guess I'll have to admit that I'm not a big fan of anime in general. Perfect Blue was just frustrating by the end.

    Nick, Lol...could you have picked a film reference more different?

    Todd, I too wanted to learn why she was "messed up" to begin with. What's her deal? I was confused about the relationship with her mother. At first, I thought her mom was pushing her too hard to live her dreams through her daughter. As the film continues, the mother seems more interested in protecting her.

    Geof, Portman is brilliant in this and I've been able to separate her stellar performance from the rest of my feelings about the movie. Yeah, you get the impression that Portman's character is pretty young, but I don't think they could have cast a younger actress without sacrificing the maturity the role requires.

    Jervaise, Do you whole-heartedly agree with my assessment that you're a perverted creeper as well? Or am I just being pretentious?

  7. "highbrow elitist dog-shit." eh-mazing lol.

  8. Can't say that I agree with your view of the film, but I can say that I enjoyed hearing your side. So much so, in fact, that I chose it as one of the best posts of January and included it in the fourth "issue" of Spatter Analysis.

    Check it out!