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January 9, 2012

Black Swan – A Study In Contagious Insanity

by gordonmichaelsutton

Ballet film, right? First those opening shots; it’s got be be set in Paris surely. It could be the Metro she’s riding I suppose. But no, it’s the New York Subway. Mystery solved. The rest of the movie is nowhere near as easy to fathom though. And all the better for it.

On the surface at least, this is about one young woman’s rigid ambition to succeed as a prima ballerina. Yet like any swan gently gliding along, there are often powerful forces churning away beneath the surface of the movie, driving altogether more sinister and disturbing motives. Nina, the innocent ballerina selected to be the Swan Queen, is most obviously prone to the dangerously deranged and obsessive influence of her mad mentor of a mother, played by Barbara Hershey.

Played with a chilling intensity, we watch Nina’s mother teetering on the verge of a sort of brittle madness. Nowhere does the insanity reveal itself more clearly than in the call sign MOM appearing with terrible regularity on Nina’s cellphone. By the end of the movie, however, you have to wonder whether that insanity had been contagious, with Nina falling cruel victim to it’s clutches. Just as in The Sixth Sense, it’s only then that you reflect on what you’ve seen and wonder whether it was indeed reality or the visions of a disturbed soul. You’re left with the distinct impression that Nina has a sharper focus as she spins and spins in the dance than she does in trying to retain a grip on her senses in the daily round of her life preparing for the opening night of Swan Lake.

Natalie Portman’s transformation within the role of Nina is mesmerising, no more so than in the closing sequences, and her Academy Award is well deserved. I probably won’t be rushing off to the ballet after watching this movie, but I’ll certainly make time to watch this over again sometime. Only sorry I didn’t see it on the big screen when it was first released.

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