Telluride Review: Darren Aronofsky's Magnificent 'Black Swan'

September 5, 2010

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Wow. Now I know who I'm going to be rooting for to win the Best Actress Oscar next year. I just stepped out of Black Swan, the latest movie from Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler) up in Telluride, and it was phenomenal. I'm hesitant to really delve too much into a full-on review because this is only my initial reaction and I definitely need to see the film a second (or third) time to fully process everything in it, but I have to at least proclaim that it is a brilliant, psychologically intense film that takes the audience on a very operatic thrill ride. I truly believe Aronofsky has outdone himself once again.

Black Swan has been described by Aronofsky as a companion film to The Wrestler, and we wrote last week that both actually originated from one idea. Natalie Portman stars as Nina, a young aspiring ballet dancer who has been practicing tirelessly in hopes of winning the lead in director Thomas Leroy's (played superbly by Vincent Cassel) newest production of Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake. Not only is she dealing with the immense stress of the production and her desire for perfection, but she lives with her retired ballet dancer and overbearing mother, all of which begins to take an extreme toll on her. She starts to see duplicates of herself and begins to have odd, twisted visions - but is it real or is it all in her head? (I won't answer that.)

What I think Aronofsky has achieved with Black Swan is a mesmerizing and utterly brilliant fusion of two performance mediums - theater (specifically ballet) and film - in an extraordinary way that I believe we've never seen before. And it might take repeat viewings for everyone to fully understand and fall completely into that fresh cinematic world that he's created. It also builds over time, as we follow the story and Nina's transformation, since she goes through quite a bit in preparing for the lead role as the Swan Queen; she's great at dancing as the White Swan, but needs to be more seductive to dance the Black Swan role perfectly. While I was already into it from the beginning, it was the third act that truly pushed me over the edge and gave me a rush I haven't experienced in a while.

It's the combination of Natalie Portman's remarkable performance, which I think deserves an Oscar, as well as Clint Mansell's score, which was a phenomenal re-interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake music, that helped pull the film much further into that cinema-ballet world. The film itself could even actually be seen as a ballet, it's that well-written and structured, and it leads to a conclusion as perfect as in The Wrestler. Even Mila Kunis, who plays a rival ballet dancer named Lilly, is better than she's ever been before. And that scene with her and Portman you've probably heard so much about is totally worth seeing, and it's only one of the many sexual motifs that are prevalent throughout Black Swan.

I can't praise this film enough, and I can't wait to watch it again. Even if anyone walks out a bit confused or emotionless the first time, let it soak in, see it again, give some extra time to process what you saw, and I'm sure it will grow on you. It's sometimes dark, it's often intense, but not too frightening (at least I thought). It's a great psychological thriller and a wild ride, and I enjoyed every second. Aronofsky's iconic hand-held shots are used frequently, but not to any disadvantage. Portman's performance is unforgettable, Mansell's score is wonderful, Darren's direction is masterful, it's a film that will stay with me for a long time. Bravo.

Alex's Telluride Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Find more posts: Review, Telluride 10



Great review Alex this is going to be a great film and prove the Portman haters wrong.

CLAW on Sep 5, 2010


Damn, i'm such an admirer of Aronofski's work. Unfortunately, the movie'll premiere here in Chile on February the 17th, after this i'm totally hyped.

Tebaan on Sep 5, 2010


cannot not wait to see it, been a fan of Aronofsky for a while now.

Xerxex on Sep 5, 2010


Very happy this has been gaining terrific reviews. Thank you for mentioning Mila Kunis. While I like her work, I was worried she would be a weak link in this production. This film looks like it has a bit of everything from a talented cast/director to a rich story. Can't wait to see this myself.

Tether on Sep 5, 2010


Looks crazy good.

Moon on Sep 5, 2010


ok i may actually go see this

Jericho on Sep 5, 2010


I predicted Darren would save 2010 and it looks like he did.

dee on Sep 5, 2010


Alex, If you had to give either this or Inception best picture. Which would it be?

movie mike on Sep 5, 2010


I agree with the above poster, an Aronofsky film is just what we need to redeem 2010. Really wish there was some way to see this before December, but there just aren't enough great art-film festivals!

Erin on Sep 5, 2010


Tebaan Im from chile too!!! where did you get that info??

Karen on Sep 5, 2010


Having viewed the trailer I sense "Black Swan" owes a huuuge debt to the brilliant animated psycho-thriller "Perfect Blue". Some shots seem lifted directly from Satoshi Kon's masterwork. Aronofsky owns the rights to the film - he acquired them in order to use some of the shots in "Requiem for a dream" ( I'd love to hear from someone who's seen both films. Oh, and I recommend to see "Perfect Blue" A.S.A.P. 🙂

Marty on Sep 6, 2010


This is exactly what I wanted to hear - a cinematic style and storytelling structure that is very much like a theater play, all building towards an emotional climax in the third act, leaving you shaking by the time the end credits start rolling - this is why I love Aronofsky, can't wait to see this film!

Filip on Sep 6, 2010


stoked for this!

memz on Sep 6, 2010


How was Winonna Ryders performance? Ive been anticipating her and Portman working together since I think they look somewhat similar and cosnider both great actresses!

DJSNOLA` on Sep 6, 2010


ok alex i wouldn't start rooting for any one just yet cuz there are lots of good movis still on their and including my pic for best actress which is hilary swank (conviction) at least the promos are great but yea black swan does look good but i would not start rooting just yet but hey thanks for the review

alan on Sep 6, 2010


Yes! I'm excited!!!!

AlexO on Sep 7, 2010


I saw this film at the Toronto Film Festival and I was blown away. It was disturbing and beautiful. I don't think I have ever seen a film quite like this. Yes, it is similar to say a "Rosemary's Baby," or a "Red Shoes," but I think it's in a category of it's own. Portman is a great actress, but she has pushed herself to the next level on this one (Oscar). Kunis is outstanding in the supporting role and Winona Ryder's role may be small but she makes it very memorable. I enjoyed this even more than the wrestler.

EJ on Sep 22, 2010

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