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Instant Reaction: Black Swan

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Mark Kermode | 16:38 UK time, Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Darren Aronovsky, the director with Pi, The Wrestler and The Fountain to his credit, is about to give us Wolverine Origins 2 with Hugh Jackman. But before he takes the comic book blockbuster dollar he has taken us on a trip upmarket, to the ballet, and what a trip it is.

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  • Comment number 1.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing this. As someone who enjoyed the Fountain.

  • Comment number 2.

    I think the Argento reference was clear from the trailer - I prefer Aronovsky when he goes insane: Pi and Requiem For A Dream!

    The Fountain was like Magnolia in the whole Auteur vanishing up his own backside for a moment way - but you let them off if they do it interestingly.

    Aronovsky has been due a Comic Book movie for some time now and I think that he could potentially live up to Nolan so long as he steers clear of what Snyder et al have done

  • Comment number 3.

    The posters for this film had already sold me ( but Mark's description of the final 20 minutes, Dario Argento on crack, eans I have to see this film as soon as flipping possible.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm not surprised there are references to The Fly being made here (you can see that in the trailer). But Argento! - on crack!! Oh man, now my anticipation for this film has sky-rocketed.

  • Comment number 5.

    Blimey Charlie! Best reaction so far in this series Dr K
    Just from your facial expression I am intrigued with this movie!
    I thought it looked a bit 'Suspiria' from the trailer, things crashing through windows, girl alone etc.
    Hopefully we will get a full review on Friday.

  • Comment number 6.

    Dr K's description made it sound right up my street, I'm really looking forward to it now. Any film that provokes a reaction like that, good or bad, is probably worth a watch.

  • Comment number 7.

    Dr Kermode your review made me laugh because for the first and likely only time I've been able to see a film before one of your instant-reviews and I can understand your reaction completely! I watched the film at one of the BFI Gala screenings after being fascinated by the trailer. It sounds like you didn't see the trailer and watched Black Swan 'fresh', so the direction the movie takes would have been a nice surprise! I think 'fresh' is the best way to see any film.

    I agree with you that the movie is quite, quite nuts; that Portman is brilliant and that the whole thing requires some consideration before the viewer knows what to make of it. Now that I've had a day or two to let it settle in my head I can say I found Black Swan to be a delight. It develops a lot like its heroine - at first by the numbers, then wild and chaotic. It's very much a genre film with all the requisite trimmings of overbearing parents, repressed sexual desire and shadowy, malign sequences involving mirrors and nightmares. I think the horror trappings in it both shackle it to strictly working as a guilty pleasure and prevent it from being a little more profound than it could have been.

    However when a film is made with such style, panache and outrageous dexterity it seems moaning about familiar horror staples is just ungrateful! The cast is superb, the visuals, score and story are absorbing and the last 20 minutes are exhilarating - and yes, jaw-dropping. It also has a 'perfect' ending in my opinion. I count myself lucky not to have to wait 'til February after seeing your reaction!

  • Comment number 8.

    dario argento on crack, thats a pretty deadly concoction right there. ill be sure to check this piece out as soon as possible.

  • Comment number 9.

    Nnnnnnnngh, I've never been completely won over by Aronofsky. He's a genius with visuals and editing, but I find his actual storytelling abilities really unoriginal and hamfisted. Pi I need to go back and watch again admittedly, but Requiem for a Dream I really didn't like much at all outside of admiration for the technical stuff.

    I also don't rate Portman much as an actress, so the doubt is in me. Still, Black Swan probably won't make its way out here until January at the earliest, so I still have some time to consider it.

    Since I'm already the miserable buzzkill, I guess this is as good a time as any to point out that Aronofsky's last name spelled wrong at the top of this blog post. I do like the jacket though.

  • Comment number 10.

    Loving these instant reviews Dr K, the look on your face was priceless as you emerged from the cinema. Before you even opened your mouth just had the feeling it was going to be a belter.And Argento on crack? Wonderful Stuff..That's like Romero doing Disney.....I'm intrigued already......:-)

  • Comment number 11.

    I have been aware of this film for a while and have heard that it is quite a strange film.

  • Comment number 12.

    @Amber: NNNOOOooooooooo!!!! Now we can't be friends. ;-)

    Joking aside, I have to admit that he's probably my favourite contemporary director. I genuinely don't think he's made a bad film yet; although admittedly some work better than others (Pi vs. The Fountain). I like the fact that he's not repeated himself once yet. In each film he's tackled a different genre - maybe he should try a screwball comedy next.

    Interest in Black Swan had been hovering at the back of my mind since I heard he was involved but now I'm really quite excited at the prospect of seeing it - the last time I felt this way about an upcoming film was for Inland Empire and that was very odd indeed (went to see that twice in the cinema and once on DVD and still don't know what it really about).

  • Comment number 13.

    Prospect Magazine reviewed this (plus Let Me In) today ( and basically said that the film is a weird mix of cliché and originality, but in the end it's not good enough to offset the preposterous scenes and general tone of self-importance. It certainly looks intense though.

  • Comment number 14.

    I was a little worried watching this because I've been really looking forward to 'Black Swan'. I'm a huge Aronofsky fan and wasn't sure what the good Doctor's reaction may be. Thankfully it was the best possible one.

    Didn't say good, didn't say bad, just crazy. And that's the way a good film should be, especially one that warrants comparison to a Lynch movie. Looking forward to this even more now.

  • Comment number 15.

    I happened to rewatched Suspiria last week and when i saw the trailer to this earlier today i was instantly reminded of it. I cant wait to see it now after seeing marks reaction to it. Dario Argento on crack! amazing!

  • Comment number 16.

    Have to admit that I'm even more intrigued by Black Swan from the good Dr's immediate reaction to it. Unfortunately the movie was sold out and I couldn't get tickets to it at the LFF. Looking forward to seeing it as soon as I can just to get the 'gob-smacked' look of the good Dr as well.

    Saw the Finnish film "This is Christmas" tonight at the Vue, Leicester Square. Wonderful, black comedy that only Europeans know how to do. Amazing cinematography. Great movie.

  • Comment number 17.

    Good to see Mila Kunis getting to do proper roles now, proving she's not just the hot, dumb chick (That 70s Show) or the ugly, boring chick (Family Guy).

    This one I will have to approach with caution - mad and out of control could mean 'Pi' but then it again it could mean 'The Fountain'.

  • Comment number 18.

    Most directors take the Hollywood dollar, if only to finance more personal projects. Wolverine was one of the worst films I saw last year; to do better won't be hard; but this from the director of The Wrestler, a really great movie?

    Black Swan, looks interesting, but Aronofsky will have to keep his wits about him if he wants to get Chris Nolan type cred.

  • Comment number 19.

    Joel's rejection made me cry into my pillow.

    Just to clarify however, I don't think Aronofsky has made a genuinely bad film yet. He makes movies that are perfectly watchable and have individual things in them to admire, but in my opinion they're also really broad movies. The stories and the paths the characters in them tend to be very contrived - the descents into madness in Pi and Requiem, for example, or the arc with Randy's daughter in The Wrestler didn't feel like natural progressions so much as they seemed like devices to force the stories forward. Combine that with an overbearing sense of melodramatic heaviness and I can't help but feel like Aronofsky's films are all really just soppy soap operas gussied up enough with enough Lynch, Kurosawa and Tarkovsky derivations to gain arthouse cred.

    Just to drive the wedge between us further, the one Aronofsky movie that I actually favor a bit is The Fountain. Oh I know, right!?

    "In each film he's tackled a different genre - maybe he should try a screwball comedy next."

    That is something I would actually like to see.

  • Comment number 20.

    I'm glad to see someone else reacting to an Aronofsky film with the same confused emotional state I often find myself in, no longer able to trust in any instinctual reaction to simply like or dislike.

    Can anyone shed light as to why this might be?

    Although I haven't seen 'The Wrestler', which seems to be very character driven, I feel films such as Pi, Requiem, Fountain have very artificial and unsympathetic characters whose behaviours are contrived as an excuse for Aronofsky to assault the senses with whatever audio or visual effect he seems keen to play with at any given moment. (perhaps this leads to some emotional bereavement?)

    Also, did anyone else feel that 'The Fountain' was just like a long, drawn out version of Trinity's cringey death scene from the Matrix Revolutions ?

  • Comment number 21.

    Perhaps Aronofsky is the Tarantino of Arthouse cinema?

  • Comment number 22.

    This is the movie I've been waiting to see beyond all others since the trailer was aired. I was a newcomer to Aronovsky somehow but after watching Requiem For A Dream, a film that affected me like no other, have consumed his work. I just wish there was more of it !

  • Comment number 23.

    Yep, the first words to come out of my mouth as I left the screening were " Bloody Hell ! "

  • Comment number 24.

    check out these instant reactions from the excorcist

  • Comment number 25.

    So my guess is that you liked it, because it's bizarre, reminds you of the various directors that you like, and it's given you an emotional experience that you will want to see over and over again, knowing that with each viewing it will give you a diffrent reaction.

  • Comment number 26.

    To comment number 5, MargeGunderson,

    Alas, Mark and Simon are off on Friday; it's Colin Patterson and Boyd and Floyd standing in. Why is Mark always away when cinema gets interesting?! Fridays just aint the same. Movie reviews without Mark and Simon is can't think of an adequate analogy.

  • Comment number 27.

    Amber, I'm not worth it, believe me! ;-)

    Weirdly enough, I was one of those who loved "The Fountain", although I recognise it's flaws (namely, incoherence) - one of the most original SF films of the last decade and yet full of emotion; I wonder if the maker's of "The Astronauts Wife" watched this? If not, maybe it would have been a better film... Seriously, I'm Aronofsky mad - he could film an adaptation of the Phone Book and I'd still watch it.

    Speaking of which (courtesy of

    (p.s. there was/is supposed to be an image there if not, try this)

  • Comment number 28.

    For me Aronovsky is the one true great film-maker of the past 15 years. Others I admire, but Aronovsky truly excites me.

    All his films offer something and all are dramatically different. The fact he will likely be directing Wolverine 2 fills me with joy - Could be the glorious death-knell of idiotic comic-book films.

  • Comment number 29.

    I am glad the venerable Dr used the word operatic, which by now I would consider a term of abuse, because that invokes clichés.

    We have the archetypical tortured artist that can't express herself unless descends into mental mayhem. This is a tired, facile plot, artists in the 21st century can't use these Goethian common places with impunity without adding something new. On this regard the film fails, and badly.

    As for the acting of Nathalie Portman it reminds me of Mexican soap operas ("telenovelas") where every single emotional gesture has to be over the top, either elation or depression, nothing in between, if it was clear that the character is mentally imbalanced from the word go then one could understand the histrionics, but here they look like the typical "look at me" performance aimed to the Academy Awards Ceremony in California. I remember at this point actresses like Melissa Leo in Frozen River, or Gabourey Sidibe in Precious, and frankly the more I think about those performances the less I like Ms Portman's.

    The photography is certainly spectacular, and the last sequence is truly amazing, if anything is this what saves the movie.

    Finally the sound: what are the cinema chains, the film producers and directors trying to achieve: to convert us into a submissive mooch by means of making the films ever louder?

    There were several points in the film during which it was truly uncomfortable to hear the sound, even Tchaikovsky sequences (classical music as loud as heave rock!?). When are the authorities going to regulate how loud a film can actually be?

    In synthesis valiant but flawed effort, praise for trying something different, that is always to be appreciated.

    The Dr normally is a great judge, so knowing he was very doubtful speaks volumes to me, irrespective of his final summary judgement.

  • Comment number 30.

    I don't bother listening to the podcast when Kermode and Mayo arn't on, I always find Colin Patterson, Boyd, and Floyd a total bore, and lack the verbal and cinematic skill that Kermode has when it comes to reviewing films.

  • Comment number 31.

    @I_am_I Thanks for letting me know. I have to say I don't mindBoyd and Floyd at all, I think they do a good job. I do agrre that it's a shame that Mark and Simon always seem to be off when things get interesting. Boyd is interviewing John Landis this week!

  • Comment number 32.

    I apologise this comment is not about the above movie. I missed the inception comments and feel i needed to say that it is a direct rip off of Dreamscape with Dennis Quaid. Inception was a good movie but added very little to the 1984 movie. Apologies again I just needed to get it off my chest

  • Comment number 33.

    I do think that Wolverine needs a good director in the same way Batman and Superman do -

    Batman has obviously been lucky with Nolan and Co. plus I believe that Fincher needs to take charge of a Superhero franchise too.

  • Comment number 34.

    Argento on crack? Mmm maybe we're taking this a bit too far.
    However I do agree that the film becomes a Horror Film in a few places. The real question is: did it really need to do that? I don't think so. The emotional power of Natalie Portman's performance was enough for me, without all this silly tricks.

    You can read my review here

    Looking forward to hearing Mark's full review.

  • Comment number 35.

    This was the best thing I saw at the London Film Festival - I thought it was breath-taking and the finale was absolutely thunderous.

  • Comment number 36.

    Judging by the trailer there seems to be quite a bit of Perfect Blue in there too, the late Satoshi Kon's anime thriller, which Aronofsky bought the remake rights to some time ago, and from which he has already taken the "heroine in the bath" scene to use in Requiem for a Dream.

  • Comment number 37.

    I was at the same screening of this film at Curzon Soho and have to say that jaw-dropping is a very good way of describing it.....jaw-dropping in a good way as well. It was AWESOME!

  • Comment number 38.

    I don't mean to be rude about other people's tastes etc., but the nature of some of the criticisms directed towards Aronofsky really irritate me, in exactly the same way as criticism of certain other so called 'art-house' directors, a tag which Aronofsky never desired as far as I can make out from his interviews. He's supposedly superficial/pretentious because the visual beauty of his work is distracting and because some of his characters make bad choices without trying to justify them this means he is apparently constructing characters as cold, emotionless plot devices. This idea that all main film characters must be developed to have 'redeeming' qualities that will teach us all a lesson is a moronic and blinkered view of storytelling. Most of all, it doesn't reflect life experience - so what would be the point in it. If someone wants to criticise the believability of a certain plot point or character developement, fair enough, but I get pretty irritated by the sweeping generalisations made about characters whom the audience never gets to fully know anyway. It seems he like to leave a lot to people's imaginations about a characters past and motivations, then drop little clues in. I see no problem with this as one approach to characters. Hitchcock, whom Aronofsky sites as an influence for this film, did the same thing and didn't recieve the sort of dismissive comments that Aronofsky gets. People just seem to intimidated by the idea that they might not 'get it' - as if to say, if they don't 'get it', then somehow its the directors fault for being pretentious. And as to cliches and film references, I think there is enough strange flourishes of imagination in The Fountain to show he is not just a rip off artist. What young director covers fantasy type material so much more imaginatively ? Who is this perfect director?

  • Comment number 39.

    there was spelling and grammar mistakes all over that kermorant there. sorry

  • Comment number 40.

    Now I've got to go and see it.

  • Comment number 41.

    Underrated masterpieces: They Might be Giants 1971 Directed by Anthony Harvey write by James Goldman staring George C Scott and Joanna Woodward who are both brilliant in it

    George C Scott plays Justin Playfair a millionaire who retreats into madness after the pointless death of his wife. His madness takes the shape of believing he is Sherlock Holmes. That way he can peruse Moriarty who is responsible for all the evil in the world. He belives it is only logical that the source of all evil can be found in a a man who can be fought and defeated rather than that the universe is random callous and uncaring. A similar sentiment is expressed by Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks

    Joanna Woodward is the psychiatrist asked to assess him and, as she is called Dr Watson, Playfair is delighted to bring her into is world as his trusty friend and chronicler. While she tries to bring him back to a reality he rejects

    “Do many people call you Holmes”

    “Hardly anyone at all”

    “That must make you feel very lonely”

    “It does, but it doesn't make me wrong”

    The title comes from her observation that he is just like Don Quxiot believing every wind mill he sees is a giant. He responds that to do that would indeed be madness but

    .” thinking that they might be, well... All the best minds used to think the world was flat. But what if it isn't? It might be round. And bread mould might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what might be, why we'd all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes”.

    I saw this film once when I was little, lonely and scared and needed a friend. It became my friend and I, though I hadn't realised it, have carried it with me into adulthood. It is the best depiction that a life well lived is where you combat loneliness by making connections and by fighting for your view of how a world should be rather than others insist that it is.

    I saw it again at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2006 where the outgoing director Shane Danielsen admitted that he chose it because when he first saw it he little, lonely and sick and needed a friend.

    It is not available on DVD in the UK and an American import will set you back about £80, which I am seriously considering investing in. A travesty as this wonderful, quirk, but in a really good way, dream of a film deserves to be seen



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