Socialist Worker

Black Swan: neither fish nor fowl

by Despina Mavrou
Issue No. 2236

Natalie Portman in Black Swan

Natalie Portman in Black Swan

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from Black Swan. I knew it had been likened to The Red Shoes from 1948.

That most famous of ballet films featured an evil ballet master forcing a ballerina to act against her own will.

Here Nina (Natalie Portman) is a “white swan” ballerina in Swan Lake. She has a cliched quiet childlike voice and fragility that suggests she could burst into tears at any moment.

Enter ballet master Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) who convinces Nina that the way to embody the more passionate black swan role is to sleep around and masturbate.

I think this is a completely false interpretation of the black swan character—which is about controlling rather than losing control.

But leaving this aside I think she should have imagined Laurence Olivier in her ear, whispering, “Have you tried acting, dear girl?”

And so it continues with one cliche on top of another—the fallen icon (Winona Ryder), the controlling mother and the rebellious ballerina (Mila Kunis).

This last is the only one with any depth, but unfortunately she doesn’t get enough screen time.

The only realism comes in the suggestion that Nina has an eating disorder—as a large number of professional dancers do.

Then halfway through the film changes. It starts to behave like a horror movie—complete with skin falling off and knees bending backwards.

That’s when you realise it is actually the tragic story of a young girl with an undiagnosed mental illness.

Black Swan has cool make-up and camera angles.

But it has very little to say about ballet, mental illness or anything else.

Director Darren Aronofsky’s apparent attempt to create a cross-genre film results in the film being genre-less.

It’s not drama, it’s not horror, it’s not a dance film, just a bit meh.

Black Swan
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

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Tue 25 Jan 2011, 18:35 GMT
Issue No. 2236
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