Black Swan Review

Black Swan Review

Lots of girls dream of being ballerinas, but what if the dream becomes a nightmare? The dark fairytale ‘Black Swan’ has its roots in the psychological trials that genuinely plague professional dancers. Unmissable.

I’ll admit it. I have never seen a Darren Aronofsky movie before. However, the lure of Orange Wednesday and Natalie Portman led me to see Black Swan last week, and it’s been haunting me ever since, just as Natalie Portman’s eyes do in that poster. Yes, the film is set in the male-engineered world of professional ballet, but it’s the female cast who leave the lasting impression…

The film Black Swan is many things: a psychological thriller, a horror film, a love story. It follows Nina’s transformation from the white swan – pale, fragile and timid – into the elemental, sinister black swan. She is mentored and pursued by her trainer, Leroy, coddled by her possessive mother, and stuck in an uneasy, tense friendship with her rival Lily.

As Nina strives to succeed at dancing the dual role, she enters into a world of burgeoning sexuality, drugs, and psychosis..


Ballet is evidently not kind to older women. Nina’s mother Erica and prima ballerina Beth Macintyre are both dancers past their prime, washed up and pushed aside at the age of thirty. Erica maintains her outwardly sane composure through a disturbingly close and restrictive relationship with her daughter that several critics have already noted as being quasi-sexual at the least. In contrast, Beth falls apart after her dismissal from the company. This culminates in a brilliantly acted but stomach-clenching scene with Winona Ryder, who manages to shine without stealing the show from Portman’s breakdown.

Nina’s sexual awakening plays a major role in the film. Her ballet instructor Leroy seems determined to initiate her into the adult world, but if you’ve read any of the internet spoilers flying around about That Scene, you’ll know that’s not quite how it goes.

Nina’s gradual decline into mental instability, climaxing in a terrifying episode of psychosis, might be exaggerated for the sake of drama, but the reality is that mental illness plagues those in the dance industry. A study by psychologist Brookes-Gun showed that one third of professional dancers showed symptoms of disordered eating. Nina is shown in the film to have been a self harmer for several years, and even Lily, the “normal” character, pops pills like they’re Smarties.

The quest for perfection is an overriding theme in the film. Nina practices to the point of obsession, pinned down by her mother’s expectations and her own desperate struggle to succeed. Although most of us aren’t prima ballerinas, we can definitely relate to the feeling of not being good enough, no matter how hard you try. It is this feeling that is reflected in the abundance of mirrors used in the film, taunting and haunting Nina until she is at the very brink of her sanity. It perfectly depicts the insecurities of a woman in a man’s world.

The film itself is like a ballet – perfectly choreographed, with sparse dialogue and brilliant casting. The play of light and shadows on the set and the use of moody melodies (and of course, the music from Swan Lake) creates a brooding atmosphere. From the very beginning, we know we’re getting a masterpiece. With a massive 71 nominations for various awards, this film is a must see. It may be my first Aronofsky film, but it definitely won’t be my last.