Sanity and reality are pushed to their very limits when a young, career-driven woman is consumed by a crushing ambition and the taxing pressures of the dance world. Darren Aronofsky's 'Black Swan' is a masterful psychological thriller which works as a passionate follow-up to 2008's 'The Wrestler.' Both films explore the strenuous mental strain of the stage from two vastly different performers. One is regarded as the pinnacle of artistic excellence while the other is often seen as the low of popular entertainment, but both share in the demanding physical rigors which haunt and exhaust the mind. For Randy "The Ram" Robinson, his most challenging battle is outside the ring. In 'Black Swan,' Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) spirals into a grappling match with herself.
Like the company's director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), announcing to a private audience his production of Swan Lake, Aronofsky delivers a different interpretation of Tchaikovsky's classic composition. Set in the contemporary — and somewhat exclusive — universe of a prestigious ballet company, the filmmaker uses the story's darker underlining themes to explore an endless clash between inner desires and reality. As Nina trains and nervously adopts — maybe even secretly yearns for — the sensual personality of the Black Swan, a grueling determination for perfection soon grows into deranged fixation. Demands come from Thomas as much as Nina's overbearing and equally unhinged mother (Barbara Hershey), and matched by fierce competition from Lily (Mila Kunis).
Nina struggles within this triangle. One tugs at her to remain pure, chaste and forever an innocent child, like a white swan, even as she grows into a mature woman. Another pushes her to let go of inhibitions and embrace the wild, rebellious side hiding deep inside. And the third demands that she find a balance between the two. Her anguish and torment is seen through the use of mirrors, a very common object in the world of dance. They make possible for us to see things we normally can't, and in doing so, expose what we wish we couldn't. The reflections reveal the faults we deny or pretend don't exist, reminding and forcing us to accept what we hide from ourselves. Mirrors play a symbolic role in 'Black Swan,' down to the film's pivotal and devastating conclusion.
For poor Nina, her life is surrounded by these reflective surfaces, both at home and during rehearsals. Her modesty and naïveté is ideal for the principal part, but she lacks the seductiveness required for the role's split personality, almost as if she's not feminine enough. Conversations between Nina and her mother — a failed dancer herself — reveal where the problem may lie, and Portman is an absolute marvel to watch in these intimately pathetic moments. Unlike the dual persona of White Swan/Black Swan Nina must contend with, Portman plays crazy effortlessly. It's in capturing that bashfully reserved side of the dancer which proves a particular challenge, but the young actress does it with such believability and finesse that we never doubt her portrayal.
Turning in a well-deserved Oscar performance, Natalie Portman wins the audience over within minutes of the opening. When she gives her mother a glance over breakfast, her look immediately defines their relationship, one which we slowly learn more about. Like the mirrors reflecting back imperfections, her eyes convey much more than they should, full of emotion and communicating a truth she hides from herself. Portman is flawlessly convincing in these moments, carrying most of the entire film on her performance. And like Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, Aronofsky eloquently blends suspenseful horror elements with the drama of mental illness, making this arguably his best film to date.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings Darren Aronofsky's 'Black Swan' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc, accompanied by a Digital Copy. Both are secured on opposing panels in a blue eco-case and with a white, shiny cardboard slipcover. The cover art of the keepcase is the same, but it shows an alternate picture of Natalie Portman dressed in black when flipped inside out. At startup, things kick off with skippable trailers for '127 Hours,' 'Love & Other Drugs,' FX programming, and a how-to promo for Digital Copy use.
Aronofsky's 'Black Swan' debuts with an excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1) which looks every bit like it did in theaters.
Filmed with a combination of digital cameras and Super 16, the stylized picture comes with a thick grain structure and restrained contrast levels. Whites remain crisp and bright nonetheless, and the textured grittiness weirdly adds to the movie's grimly surreal theme on psychosis. The freshly-minted transfer also displays a heavily subdued color palette, which places more emphasis on the softer hues and heightens the film's bleak nature. As a result of the planned photography, some details tend to be obscured by the darker portions of the image, but it's not enough to ruin its enjoyment. In fact, definition is outstanding and resolute. The fine lines of hairs, clothing and objects are distinct from and plainly visible throughout with natural facial complexions. Blacks are richly profound and intense.
This video presentation a real beauty, without a single blemish to be found — one which stays true to the filmmaker's intentions.
Fox also includes a wonderful DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack which enhances the film's terrifying elements remarkably.
Vocals are splendid and clearly intelligible, making every reserved and timid whisper from Portman ideally audible. Imaging is beautifully expansive and involving, full of warmth and rich clarity. Dynamic range is superb, exhibiting a clean, perceptible distinction between the highs and mids, which is perfect for a movie with such complex music. The low end is full-bodied and hearty, providing the lossless mix with plenty of depth and weight. Rear activity is not exactly consistent or always immersive, but the music extends into the background with ease and surrounds the listener with a feeling of being there, in front of a live orchestra. The few discrete effects are mostly used for generating a creepy soundscape, which are convincing with smooth, fluid pans.
The high-rez track is an immensely entertaining and wholly satisfying experience, especially for a suspenseful drama such as this.
'Black Swan' arrives to the home market with a healthy selection of goodies, and most of them are available only on Blu-ray.
Darren Aronofsky's 'Black Swan' is a masterful psychological thriller set in the physically and mentally demanding world of ballet. It's a beautifully photographed but genuinely creepy film that harkens to Roman Polanski's early works and features an enthralling performance from the young Natalie Portman. The Blu-ray arrives with a gritty and faithful picture quality, accompanied by an involving audio presentation that adds to the disturbing overtones. Most all the supplements are exclusive to the high-def format, making this a highly recommended purchase.