Title: Black Swan

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel

Release Date: January 21st


Very few major Hollywood films can legitimately be described as true works of art, but there are very few filmmakers like Darren Aronofsky. The major thread connecting all of Aronofsky’s work might be described as the unbelievably beautiful contrasted against the deeply unsettling – and in that case, this might be the definitive Aronofsky film.

Black Swan is the story of a troubled-yet-brilliant ballerina (Portman), cast as the Swan Queen in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. In her quest for utter perfection, her mind begins to slowly unravel, as her world slowly transforms from a little girl’s idealised dream to a troubled woman’s visceral nightmare.

Aronofsky is a master at creating a pervasively unsettling tone in his films, although he has come a very long way from the shocks and depravity of Requiem for a Dream. Aronofsky uses ballet as a framing device for what is essentially an exploration of female self-mutilation and ballet proves to be the means for this.

Moments as simple as Portman’s Nina having her fingernails cut are made more invasive and unsettling than the very darkest moments of Saw or Hostel. Having these instances contrasted so elegantly against the choreographed beauty of the dances themselves is where Black Swan’s true genius lies.

No other director, short of Michael Powell or Zhang Yimou, pays such remarkable attention to the use of colour in their films (most brilliantly displayed in the massively underrated The Fountain). Black Swan is a film bathed in a chilling monochrome, mirroring the light and dark dichotomy that the film revolves around. Aronofsky’s clinical restraint in using black and white only serves to make the occasional splash of crimson all the more shocking.

Natalie Portman gives a performance that is nothing short of breathtaking, and along with Aronofsky’s insane, brilliant vision, delivers a film that is infinitely better than the subject matter alone would suggest.

Black Swan is the best work of two already distinguished careers and is totally deserving of the piles of accolades it looks likely to receive when award season rolls around. It’s not only one of the best films of the year, but a true classic made in the confines of what is essentially a psychological thriller. Very few films are at once stunningly beautiful, unrelentingly moving and completely terrifying. Just like Portman’s ballerina, Black Swan is almost perfect.

In a nutshell: A masterpiece.

Jon Hozier-Byrne