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Black Swan DVD Review

Black Swan (2010) movie poster Black Swan

Theatrical Release: December 3, 2010 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Darren Aronofsky / Writers: Andrιs Heinz (story & screenplay); Mark Heyman, John McLaughlin (screenplay)

Cast: Natalie Portman (Nina Sayers / The Swan Queen), Mila Kunis (Lily / The Black Swan), Vincent Cassel (Thomas Leroy / The Gentleman), Barbara Hershey (Erica Sayers / The Queen), Winona Ryder (Beth MacIntyre / The Dying Swan), Benjamin Millepied (David / The Prince), Ksenia Solo (Veronica / Little Swan), Kristina Anapau (Galina / Little Swan), Janet Montgomery (Madeline / Little Swan), Sebastian Stan (Andrew / Suitor), Toby Hemmingway (Tom / Suitor), Sergio Torrado (Sergio / Rothbart)
Black Swan is one of DVDizzy.com's Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).Black Swan ranks 89th in our list of the Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).

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Black Swan tells the story of a Lincoln Center ballet company preparing a production of Swan Lake. Every girl at the studio covets the lead role of the Swan Queen and it's a part that is up for the taking now that the troupe's longtime star (Winona Ryder) has been forced into retirement. The film's protagonist, seasoned and highly disciplined Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), stumbles at her audition,
but she pleads her case the next day in a meeting with the show's respected French director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). That meeting goes awkwardly, so Nina is shocked to discover she has been cast as the Queen. It's a demanding role, which in Leroy's version encompasses both the White Swan and the Black Swan, with their contrary styles and personalities.

There is nothing especially remarkable about that story, but Black Swan stands out for the way in which it tells it. It is easy to imagine the plot unfolding in a typical, generic fashion. Nina would work hard to win the approval of her director, peers, and self, with a couple of montages selling the journey. She would convey her thoughts and emotions to a best friend, who'd have more comedic lines. There would be a bitchy nemesis, who would get a comeuppance in the end. There would be a romance with a guy who at first didn't at all seem right for her. And the movie would end with a successful, satisfying performance. It'd be rated PG-13, of course, with some mild profanity and teenaged girls would be the target audience.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is one of many female ballet dancers hoping to get the dualistic lead role of Swan Queen in Swan Lake. French director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) observes and critiques his Swan Queen's rehearsal.

Though it hits a couple of the beats envisioned above, Black Swan largely does away with the comforts of such convention to blaze its own distinctive trail. Rather than telling us what a star ballet dancer faces, the film opts to make us feel it, putting us inside the neurotic, narrow mind of Nina Sayers for what is a trippy, unsettling creative process fueled by paranoia and self-doubt.

Well into adulthood, Nina still lives with her mother (Barbara Hershey), who knows firsthand the demands of a ballet career and nonetheless treats her daughter like a child. With a bedroom full of stuffed animals, repressed Nina doesn't exactly contest that treatment, seemingly incapable of having any other human relationship. Ballet is her everything and preparing her slippers and assessing her feet are religious experiences.

Nina perceives a threat in Lily (Mila Kunis), a new dancer at the company who is everything she's not. Liberated Lily smokes, parties, eats what she likes, and has a large tattoo across her upper back. Nina has complicated feelings toward Lily, a mix of attraction and resentment. With questionable cause, Nina becomes convinced that Lily, who has been chosen as the alternate Swan Queen, is gunning for her part. Inspired initially by a recreational drug, the stressed-out Nina begins hallucinating and as Opening Night approaches, she seems destined for a full-fledged descent into madness.

In Nina's mind, San Franciscan export Lily (Mila Kunis) is both a threat and a temptress. Nina (Natalie Portman) has a problem that often leaves her back bloodied.

Black Swan is the fifth feature film directed by Darren Aronofsky, whose reputation has grown as he has developed from a maker of acclaimed arthouse fare (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) into someone who can interest and connect with the masses without compromise (The Wrestler). Aronofsky recently bowed out of helming The Wolverine, a Hugh Jackman spin-off to a spin-off from Marvel Comics' X-Men film franchise.
The director cited the 2012 tentpole's demanding schedule, which would have kept him out of the country supposedly for close to a year, but one can come up with plenty of other reasons why someone regarded as an artist would not want to try his hand at such a commercial undertaking coming off his two best-received works to date.

Black Swan is an imaginative experience, which turns a personal artistic endeavor into a suspenseful psychological thriller in a way that somehow makes perfect sense. As on The Wrestler, Aronofsky receives no writing credit here. The screenplay is attributed to virtually unknown former "Saturday Night Live" production coordinator Andres Heinz (whose theatre-set screenplay "The Understudy" was the foundation), Aronofsky's assistant-turned-Wrestler co-producer Mark Heyman, and John McLaughlin, one of the scribes of the Tommy Lee Jones Man of the House.

The film's directing achievements go well beyond its writing ones, which explains why Aronofsky picked up his first Academy Award nomination in the 5-deep Director category while the script went unrecognized in the less competitive Original Screenplay. It's possible to watch stretches of Black Swan and accuse the director of simply piling on hazy, chaotic images, but every strange turn in the film seems to serve a purpose and, though open to interpretation, be clearly read and understood.

Ballet is not an art form that many people appreciate or frequent, so wisely the film is not simply about that. It delves into some specifics, like precise movements and their connotations, but stays more invested in the pursuit as a whole, the hunger for success and the fear of failure. Framed in such terms, Nina's nerve-wracking odyssey is universally identifiable and requires no leotard in your closet.

Buoying the film is the exceptional performance of Natalie Portman. Her Oscar win for Best Actress feels slightly like an acknowledgment of over fifteen impressive years in the business, from her childhood debut in The Professional to respectable indie and studio turns to being the rare performer to sustain a career following Star Wars. But Portman still has a couple of months in her twenties left, so though this wasn't premature, it also was no lifetime send-off. The actress lost twenty pounds for the part and spent six months of long training days, but this deserved accolade is not about physical transformation or her convincingness as a professional ballet dancer. It is about her ability to fully embody the inhibited, doubtful Nina Sayers and sell every emotion with a minimum of dialogue. Her castmates lend strong support in the opportunities afforded, but the film belongs to Portman and without as committed a performance, it would sink.

The White Swan side of Swan Lake's Queen comes more naturally to disciplined ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman).

While the ballet world setting, unconventional sensibilities, and enthusiastic critical reaction all point to Black Swan being an art film of modest appeal, somehow, it became one of last year's biggest hits. Its $106.6 million (and still counting) domestic gross made it the #1 movie of the year for 20th Century Fox, surpassing Date Night, the latest Chronicles of Narnia installment, and summer and holiday season non-starters. That achievement in part reflects Fox's weak box office performance post-Avatar (which earned enough money in 2010 for Fox to still rank third among studios for the year), but the public's reception of the film is still remarkable and unusual. Black Swan is the third highest grosser in Fox Searchlight history, trailing only Oscar-winning predecessors Juno and Slumdog Millionaire. It also amassed more than five of its nine fellow Best Picture nominees, including media fixture The Social Network and Aronofsky-produced The Fighter. With a pronounced box office slump ongoing, that a small, challenging $13 million drama could make so much money (nearly $300 million worldwide) is both encouraging and astonishing.

As its theatrical engagements wind down, Black Swan can now be enjoyed in the comforts of one's home, since Fox released it to DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday.

Black Swan DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: March 29, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98 (Reduced from $29.98)
Clear Keepcase
Also available in Blu-ray Disc ($39.99 $29.99 SRP)
and on Amazon Instant Video


Almost certainly by design, Black Swan is a very grainy film. The 2.40:1 DVD transfer upholds that look, which visually complements the emotional contrasts between it and its contemporaries. The picture may not have the pristine wow factor of something like Inception, but it has its merits, among them, the appealing primarily handheld Oscar-nominated cinematography and modest but meaningful visual effects. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is as pleasing, its ballet music and Tchaikovsky-inspired original score both engulfing to nice effect while dialogue remains crisp and mostly intelligible throughout.

Mustachioed director Darren Aronofsky, cinematographer Matty Libatique, and Natalie Portman examine a digital camera as part of their New York City subway shoot. For her "Metamorphosis" to swan, Natalie Portman gets a little help from computer-generated imagery. Nina's Black Swan multiplies on the DVD's main menu.


The DVD includes just one bonus feature in the making-of documentary "Black Swan Metamorphosis" (48:50). It collects cast and crew comments, but consists primarily of fly-on-the-set footage from the winter 2009-10 shoot. Naturally, this approach is revealing and the length ensures we get detailed looks at specific topics, like set design and achieving the film's mirror motif.

Divided into three parts (for filming locations New York City and Purchase, NY, and effects), this nonetheless works as a single coherent companion to the film. Centering on Nina's climactic transformation into a swan, the slightly shorter final chapter is a bit dry, but its elemental breakdown of shots is interesting.

Three bonus features remain exclusive to the Blu-ray edition: the featurettes "Behind the Curtain" and "Ten Years in the Making" and the Fox Movie Channel special "Cast Profiles - Roles of a Lifetime." As is usually the case, disc space is not the reason why all of these were excluded from the DVD, which is more than a gigabyte under dual-layered capacity.

The DVD opens with promos for Fox Digital Copy, 127 Hours, Love & Other Drugs, Mao's Last Dancer, and Fox's 75th Anniversary. Repeating none of these, the "Sneak Peek" menu holds trailers for Conviction, Never Let Me Go, Casino Jack, and Street Kings 2: Motor City.

Menus are static and silent, except for the main menu, which delivers an artsy, scored montage of ballet performance clips.

Black Swan is given a flourish or two in the packaging department. For one thing, the Blu-ray opts for a predominantly white cover to contrast the primarily black DVD front. For another, instead of the widely-used standard black Eco-Box, the DVD is housed in a clear keepcase whose interior displays credits text and, underneath the disc, the central image of the disc art. It's stylish without using cardboard. While the Oscars were given out over a month ago, the DVD was readied before it; it only identifies Natalie Portman as an Academy Award nominee (although a shrinkwrap sticker clarifies she won).

Thomas Leroy / The Gentleman (Vincent Cassel) gives some motivational words to Nina Sayers / The Swan Queen (Natalie Portman) moments before their opening night performance of "Swan Lake."


Strange, powerful, and a bit disturbing, Black Swan is a complex drama well worth seeing. Fox's DVD delivers a grainy but fine feature presentation and though it lacks three of the Blu-ray's extras, its one documentary should be enough behind-the-scenes for most. It earns my recommendation.

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Black Swan Songs List: Pete Min - "Apotheosis", The Chemical Brothers - "Danka Jane", Sepalcure featuring Angelica Bess - "Outside the Lines", Al Tourettes - "The White Easton", Kavsrave - "Illicit Dreaming", The Chemical Brothers - "Electric Hands", The Chemical Brothers - "The Nina Frequency", Jakes - "Dark Sygnet"

Black Swan: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Score by Clint Mansell:
Download from iTunes • Download MP3s from Amazon.com • Buy CD from Amazon.com

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Reviewed March 31, 2011.

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and 2011 Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.