Black Swan - A taut psychological backstage thriller (4 stars)

Black Swan - A taut psychological backstage thriller

Darren Aronofsky's intense and involving companion piece to The Wrestler

(15) 108min

Darren Aronofsky’s follow up to The Wrestler is a similarly intense and involving companion piece. Parallels can be drawn between the struggles of Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson at the end of his working life with the more immediate drama of Nina Sayers, a young ballet dancer at the start of her career. Like Sayers, Natalie Portman puts her body and soul into her role as an ingénue who wins the lead in a lavish production of Swan Lake.

Through Sayers’ eyes, Aronofsky presents the world of ballet as a snake pit, including slimy director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), malicious rival dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) and Nina’s mentally unstable predecessor Beth (Winona Ryder). With her shrill and hectoring mother (Barbara Hershey) providing little support, Sayers has to fight off both her real enemies and her growing neuroses to give the onstage performance of her life.

Few directors explore the darkness of a professional life better than Aronofsky, and with Black Swan he lets rip in audacious style, slow-burning through layers of accumulating tension to finally reach the kind of visceral, bloody shock conclusions best exemplified in the best work of David Cronenberg and Brian de Palma. As well as being a taut psychological backstage thriller, Black Swan is also a powerful drama about the strains of womanhood, with Portman coming of age as an actress with an accessible, vulnerable portrait of a girl on the edge of madness. The stresses of ballet might not sound like the stuff of thrilling cinema, but in Aronofsky’s capable hands, this Black Swan flies straight into the darkening storm.

General release from Fri 21 Jan.

Black Swan

  • 4 stars
  • 2010
  • US
  • 1h 48min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
  • Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder

Aronofsky's follow-up to The Wrestler is an intense and gripping portrayal of psychological meltdown. Young ballerina Nina (Portman) finds herself thrown into a maelstrom of conflict, backstabbing and mental manipulation when she is cast as both the white and black swans in a lavish production of Swan Lake. Dark and…