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5 live review: Black Swan

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Mark Kermode | 11:50 UK time, Monday, 24 January 2011

5 live's resident movie critic Dr Mark Kermode reviews Black Swan.

Go to Mark on 5 live for more reviews and film debate.

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You can hear Mark talk about the latest films on Kermode & Mayo's Film Review on BBC Radio 5 live every Friday 2pm-4pm. The programme is also available as a podcast.


  • Comment number 1.

    If it makes you feel better dear doctor i love The Fountain. Can't wait to see Black Swan although Pi i can never sit through...

  • Comment number 2.

    Dr. K.

    I love The Fountain and I also know a couple of of other people who like The Fountain very much. So don't worry Dr. K there are others that like The Fountain very much.

  • Comment number 3.

    You did not mention, i believe, Aronofsky's main influence to the film - Polanski's Repulsion. Although it's a fairly different storyline the physiological similarities are obvious, brought to a head in the claustrophobic apartment scenes in the both films. Furthermore, the two murders (questionable?), in each film feel very similar as well. I would take my hat off to Aronofsky , for making a great new cocktail out of trusted ingredients.

  • Comment number 4.

    Surely nobody could make a film about backstage shenanigans at Swan Lake without being influenced by Eric and Ernie's "Intelligence Men"(1965). No?

    No yawning this time, but the gentleman that doesn't tuck his shirt in only makes it to 7 minutes and 50 seconds before he's had enough.

    Nice bubbles at the end; quite calming after a typical full-frontal Kermodian bombardment.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hey Mark,

    You'll enjoy this - Walter Murch on 3D.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Mark,

    Don't worry I like the Fountain as well. It's a big mess of a film but I thought it was quite good.

    I haven't seen Black Swan yet but the other does so we'll be popping into the world of cine sometime soon.

  • Comment number 7.

    This surely solves one of the main issues with 3D, Mark. Behold, the future of 3D au naturel.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    Just been reading about the BBC website cuts, 606 going is bad enough but really hope this blog isn't going to face the axe too.

    Back on topic, saw Black Swan yesterday and loved it - Natalie Portman will surely (and deservedly) get the Best Actress Oscar.

  • Comment number 10.

    Trying again...

    More support for the Fountain from me.

    I saw Black Swan a few weeks ago and I thought it might polarise opinion - judging from the reaction on the show last week, it has.

    I saw Repulsion when I was 15 and it has lived with me ever since - and clearly there's a similarity here. Portman is fantastic and I expect her to win the Oscar. That *person with little wit or intelligence* on the *not very good* Film 2010 who said she didn't have enough intensity for the role is *deluded*.

    PS - The revamped Film 2010 is *disappointingly poor*. I've watched it on two occasions and it puts me in mind of the film reviews in Heat magazine.

  • Comment number 11.

    I went to see Black Swan on Friday and loved it. Brilliant performance by Natalie Portman whose portray of the fragile Nina is perfect.

    By only gripe with the film is that many of the people going to watch it didn't seem to know what they are going to see. The majority of the packed audience I saw it with were women under 20 (many of them breaking your Cinema Commandments!) who were clearly shocked by what the film turned into. I don't think the marketing prepared them to see a psychological thriller.

    They also gave very loud cries of "Eeeewwwww!" or "Oh not again!" whenever there was a scene of a sexual nature, which was very distracting but also hilarious.

  • Comment number 12.

    The Razzies nominations are out!

    The Bounty Hunter
    The Last Airbender
    Sex and the City 2
    Twilight Saga: Eclipse
    Vampires Suck

    Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer / Vampires Suck
    Michael Patrick King / Sex & The City 2
    M. Night Shyamalan / The Last Airbender
    David Slade / Twilight Saga: Eclipse
    Sylvester Stallone / The Expendables

    Jack Black / Gulliver’s Travels
    Gerard Butler /The Bounty Hunter
    Ashton Kutcher / Killers and Valentine’s Day
    Taylor Lautner / Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Valentine’s Day
    Robert Pattinson / Remember Me and Twilight Saga: Eclipse

    Jennifer Aniston / The Bounty Hunter and The Switch
    Mylie Cyrus / The Last Song
    Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis & Cynthia Nixon / Sex & the City 2
    Megan Fox / Jonah Hex
    Kristen Stewart / Twilight Saga: Eclipse

    Jessica Alba / The Killer Inside Me, Little Fockers, Machete and Valentine’s Day
    Cher / Burlesque
    Liza Minnelli / Sex & the City 2
    Nicola Peltz / The Last Airbender
    Barbra Streisand / Little Fockers

    Billy Ray Cyrus / The Spy Next Door
    George Lopez / Marmaduke, The Spy Next Door and Valentine’s Day
    Dev Patel / The Last Airbender
    Jackson Rathbone / The Last Airbender and Twilight Saga: Eclipse
    Rob Schneider / Grown Ups

    Cats & Dogs 2: Revenge of Kitty Galore
    Clash of the Titans
    The Last Airbender
    Nutcracker 3-D
    Saw 3-D (aka Saw VII)

    Jennifer Aniston & Gerard Butler / The Bounty Hunter
    Josh Brolin’s Face & Megan Fox’s Accent / Jonah Hex
    The Entire Cast of The Last Airbender
    The Entire Cast of Sex & The City 2
    The Entire Cast of Twilight Saga: Eclipse

    The Last Airbender, Written by M. Night Shyamalan, based on the TV series created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Brian Konietzko
    Little Fockers, Written by John Hamburg and Larry Stuckey, based on Characters Created by Greg Glenna & Mary Roth Clarke
    Sex & the City 2, Written by Michael Patrick King, Based on the TV Series Created by Darren Star
    Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, Based on the Novel by Stephenie Meyer
    Vampires Suck, Written by Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer

    Clash Of The Titans
    The Last Airbender
    Sex & The City 2
    Twilight Saga: Eclipse
    Vampires Suck

  • Comment number 13.

    Black Swan was cute.

    Is La bête worth looking up then?

  • Comment number 14.

    I'm pleased you've enjoyed Black Swan after another viewing of it. I recall your video blog from last year after you first viewed it. Good to know the film stands up to more than a single viewing.

    Looking forward to seeing it tonight. Bring on the psyche.

  • Comment number 15.

    I can't wait to see this movie! It seems so daring, so dark, so imaginative... I hope it's the bright shining gem I think it is!

  • Comment number 16.

    @ Rich Indeed

    BBC website cuts? That's strange... Anyway, I'd be surprised if Mark's blog will be taken down as after all it is Kermode...Uncut. ;) Sorry for the lame joke. I hope this blog will stay too as it's very interesting and enjoyable.

  • Comment number 17.

    Dear Dr Kermode,

    Regarding win!



  • Comment number 18.

    Birds and analogies about birds are terrifying. Edgar Allen Poe knew it, Daphne du Maurier knew it, Alfred Hitchcock knew it. The creators of Sesame Street definitely knew it. Birds and ballerinas? This truly is the stuff of nightmares.

  • Comment number 19.

    I saw Black Swan with my wife at a preview at the World Of Cine last Tuesday.

    I'd wanted to see the film ever since Marks 'Blimey...' blog before Christmas, intrigued by his pithy instant review.

    To give some context here, I like all sorts of films. This year, I am most looking forward to (in ascending order of excitement) Drive Angry, Thor and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (though I could not care less about 3D - great link to the Ebert blog above). I LIKE films about giant transforming robots knocking seven bells out of each other.

    Before the film, I'd enjoyed a big meal, and we went into a small, stuffy, packed out screen, where the air conditioning appeared to be broken. As someone who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, going to watch a film about ballet... this was a recipe for a nap, surely.

    I was (not literally) glued to the screen.

    I thought it was spooky, scary, funny, sad, gripping - everything a film should be. Superb casting, superbly lit, very well directed - I was tremendously impressed by it. Okay, it's (very?) far-fetched in places, but so what - it's a ride, and a grown-up one at that. So it's a genre picture with pretensions, so what? Look at the ballet, look at the film, you can see how it's going to end up...

    The bar has been set very high very quickly. Film of the year so far...

  • Comment number 20.

    I'd been looking forward to Black Swan ever since seeing the gorgeous international posters for it a few months ago. It completely blew me away; gripping from the start, creepy, intense, and stunningly beautiful. Actually reminded me of some of Chan-Wook Park's stuff.

  • Comment number 21.

    On a totally unrelated subject: The final and absolute argument against 3D:
    Makes so much sense.

  • Comment number 22.

    I also enjoyed Fountain despite it's flaws.


    I was talking to my Aunt and Great Aunt at the weekend who after an enjoyable trip to see The King's Speech announced they were looking forward to seeing "the ballet film". I thought they were talking about the live ballets that were previewed before TKS but no, they wanted to go to see Black Swan.

    Despite my advice that it might not be their cup of tea they are adamant that they'll go to watch it. I look forward to hearing their thoughts.

    I've not managed to catch any TV or cinema trailers for it, are the promoters miss-selling this a bit?

  • Comment number 23.

    Yeah, it was definatley psycho meets the red shoes......I enjoyed it.

  • Comment number 24.

    I also liked BLACK SWAN. But frustratingly, I don't love it - it's a four-star film but for some unknown reason I can't put it up to five stars. This is annoying because everyone else is raving about how wonderful and marvellous it is and while ordinarily that doesn't bother me (most people raved about how marvellous The Piano was, but they're just wrong), it bothers me here because Black Swan is exactly the sort of film I should love.

    For what it's worth, my scribbles about it:

  • Comment number 25.

    I think that if they're based on the same source material more than the film they can be considered not to be remakes but if it's clear that the second adaptation has similarities to the first film it is fair to call it a remake (ie. Let Me In), but judgment often does falls under a film to film basis.

    What's strange is I'm happy to not consider Christopher Nolan's Batman series to be a saga of remakes of Tim Burton's films (and certainly not Schumacher's) but rather a rebranding for the franchise.
    Then again, if you look at certain sequences in Begins and Dark Knight, they bare striking resemblances to sequences in Burton's films. Examples being both Begins and Batman(1989) include an escape sequence in which Batman rescues the love interest, escapes a car chase, informs the love interest of an impending plot in his Bat-cave and then sedates her, causing her to wake up in her own bed with the information she needs.

    Both Dark Knight and Batman(1989) have a scene in which Batman attempts a vehicular head on collision with The Joker but crashes at the last moment, and there's even a moment in Batman Returns(1992) when our hero discards parts of the Batmobile, mid-chase, and strips down to the vehicle's bare components to keep moving, similar to the introduction of the Bat-Pod in The Dark Knight.

    I still don't consider the new series to be remakes but I find those elements to be compelling contradictions and I think it's very difficult to find a simple and solid definitive statement on the topic of remakes and re-imaginings.

  • Comment number 26.

    No mention from Kermode on how the story is pretty much taken from the anime Perfect Blue to which Aronofsky bought the rights to years ago to take two scenes from it for Requiem for a Dream. If you substitute actress for ballerina in the Perfect Blu Synopsis, its pretty much Back Swan.
    BLACK swan, perfect BLUE! see what I mean ;) ALso the last thing Portman says 'PERFECT' blue.. see what I mean.. wink wink nudge nudge

  • Comment number 27.

    Spot on as usual Mark. I went to see Black Swan today and was totally blown away by it. Your initial reaction to the movie of "Blimey Charlie" as you say was probably due to going into the viewing cold, knowing nothing about it. Thankfully having read a little about it I felt fully prepared for what I was going to see. In fact in some ways I was expecting it to be far more over the top than it actually was.
    I completely agree it is more structured and deliberate than you initially gave it credit for. The first two thirds of the movie are presented more conventionally the last third is full of symbolism and physical representations of a fractured mind. Portman is amazing, and acts her heart out. Scenes of extreme body horror mix with scenes of emotional intensity, cameras mimic the dancers movements with dizzy accuracy, the sound swings from blaring score to the creaking of bone and muscle and the faint noise of fluttering wings. Yes there are homages to other movies as Mark mentions but they are all brought together in a wonderfully stylish package by Aronofsky. Well worth a watch and until now I thought Jennifer Lawrence deserved the oscar but I think Ms Portman may have changed my mind.

  • Comment number 28.


    I've not managed to catch any TV or cinema trailers for it, are the promoters miss-selling this a bit?"

    Perhaps on the TV cut of the trailer which is what many people will have seen. Sections of the audience I was in certainly didn't expects some aspects of the film. On the other hand though, who likes trailers that give everything away?


    No mention from Kermode on how the story is pretty much taken from the anime Perfect Blue"

    I was saying to friends several months ago that it sounded like Perfect Blue. I didn't know that Aronofsky had the rights to it though. Great anime film.

  • Comment number 29.

    Full house in Screen 6 Wolverhampton. I reckon 80% of the audience thought it was going to be a straight forward Oscar fodder ballet drama. People winced at Natalie Portman cracking her toes and ankles, the heavier stuff later on completely threw folks for a loop hahahaha. Loved it!

  • Comment number 30.

    I think one of the films 'Black Swan' resembles most closely is Michael Haneke's 'La Pianiste', based on the controversial novel by Elfriede Jelinek: a fragile central female character with a fixation on artistic perfection, a deeply troubled maternal relationship and very specifically the ending. That's not to say I didn't absolutely love 'Black Swan' on its own merit. Such an intense cinematic experience and the hard-to-watch scenes were fully justified by excellent acting and ciné-literate direction, unlike many movies I have seen where such images are exploitative and verging on unnecessary. Really enjoyed this, was a fan of Aronovski's beforehand, I'm a massive massive fan now. Also, great to see Vincent Cassel in anything. Brilliant.

  • Comment number 31.

    Went to see Black Swan on Tuesday afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a massive jumble of everything you say - The Red Shoes, Suspiria, Mulholland Drive, The Fly, and bits of Requiem for a Dream in its club scenes. I don't think it's a masterpiece in the slightest, but I was slightly thrilled by the way it was dividing audiences - a couple sitting behind me walked out saying it was total crap.

    Having digested it over a couple of days, the film which it most reminds me of is The Man Who Fell to Earth (stay with me). Superficially there is a character similarity in that both Nina and Newton start off as pure but intense creatures who gradually and irrevocably descend into darkness and are ultimately fatalistic about their future. But more than that there is a structural similarity.

    In both films there are loads of moments which either don't work or don't belong. I could have done without the lesbian sex, in the same way as I could have done without the close-up of Candy Clark urinating. Both films are trippy, heady concoctions which pull out all the stops to freak us out and draw on a lot of generic conventions in doing so. And both are made with a sense of indulgence which is reflected in the camera angles, colour and the latter's use of music. BUT - and it is a big but - beneath all the full-on, potentially alienating chaos, the films hold up as thrilling examinations of an individual's mind and soul disintegrating as they are corrupted by the darker side of life. The realisation of the extent of their trauma only really hits you during the end credits, and while you remember the bonkers tone of both films, it is that kernel of tragedy that lingers longest.

  • Comment number 32.

    Went to see Black Swan today and loved it.

    Can totally agree with the David Lynch themes which was great to see and it did remind me Shutter Island also.

    I felt this film really expressed life intimidating Art and the beautiful simplicity of good and evil.

    I was totally breathless by the end! Brilliant.

  • Comment number 33.

    For me, Black Swan is Aranofski's second best film after The Wrestler. More emotional than Pi, more structured than Requiem for a Dream and more coherant than The Fountain (Which, I have to say, I really hate).

    It's going to be this and The Kings Speech gunning for the big awards this season, and rightly so.

  • Comment number 34.

    I watched both Black Swan and The King's Speech yesterday (leaving it til the end of the month to renew my world of cine card).

    I am a large Giallo and 70's exploitation fan and while I favour Fulci over Argento I have seen several of the former's films. For Black Swan I felt it compared rather poorly to the older exploitation films. I think it comes down to several differences between the modern mainstream cinema and the old off the beaten track flicks. The sexuality in the film, bar those involving the coreographer, seemed frankly pornagraphic and melodramatic. It is not simply because there were depictions of lesbians and both being pretty women but the thrusting instant of fingering was so poorly pulled off that there was a ripple of giggles/chuckles from the audience.

    However beyond that complaint, though a relatively central theme in the film, I did think the rest of the film was fantasticly crafted. The two tone dichotomy of the 'colour' scheme is kept up very cleverly and rather than merely just keeping it black & white it's balanced with pale pastel tones (clothing) and the bold primary flashes (club scene). It's not just the dedication to the tone in colour but the music. The music for swan lake is used well but then again it would be hard to mess it up when you're following the ballet in life or stage. Another thing I became distinctly aware of is the sound of wing flaps in place of applause and other similiar noises.

    What may of saved the film from some of it's lulling moments is the climactic finish. During the film the fantasy elements are here and there, still playing close to the mark though sadly obvious by its mere execution, come to a brilliant explosion in the end. Some of the most disturbing imagery comes at this end point and the blurred reality increases...I just wish they had kept a higher level earlier as the big reveal isn't a surprise but still dramatically pulled off and I think they could of indulged in more fantasy elements earlier.

    Also does the constant use of orchestral music make stings acceptable? There were certainly plenty of them in this film.

  • Comment number 35.

    Been thinking about the blimey charlie quote when Mark first saw Black Swan. Was there an embargo at the time, is that why you didn't elaborate any further Dr K? After all it was quite some time before its official release.
    Anyway here are my thoughts in a bit more detail:

  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 37.

    yes @36 Paul Richard Scott, you are a grumpy plot spoiler.

    Good job, i've seen it then. The plot is formulaic - but that's deliberate - you can tell it will be like that right from the start because the story is obviously meant to follow the rough plot of the ballet Swan Lake. It's like complaining that American Werewolf in London contains a predictably viscious animal. As opposed to what? A happy ending? That sounds 'great'.

    Sometimes there is a pleasure in knowing what is coming - it can create the effect that at every moment we are wondering when it is finally going to take a turn for the dark, toying with our expectations. Perhaps he didn't toy enough - but there was nothing wrong with the use of a classic template - plenty of great films do that. Polanski does that.

    Similarly, I would not criticise Aranofsky for using familiar symbols, archetypes and myths - as Dario Argento often utilised himself. Sometimes it shows more skill if familiar elements can be combined to create and original effect.

    The problem that I had with it, and it's only a small one that would knock off one star, is that it's a little bit too slick and plays to the Cosmopolitan/Vogue reading crowd a little bit too much. It indulges those who have walked into the cinema for slightly superficial reasons a little too much, cutting out some of the more torturous or difficult 'Possession' like scenes that were probably originally in it. I would have given a little more time to the trainer and the mother - and most of all to the city of New York e.g. a scene like the begger scene in the underground station in The Exorcist - as if the environment is helping to drive her over the edge and force choices upon her - there are hints that this may have originally been part of the plot e.g. the doppleganger sightings on the dark streets.

    The point @26 by Cash_Black is a good one - it is not a film about ballet. Similarly, it is not closest to other ballet films like Susprisia (sorry Mark - I think the similarity is superficial). Similarly, 'the Fly' influence is just a means to an end - we could as well talk about the bone-cracking transformation in 'American Werewolf'. Perhaps the director was generally influenced by those types of films cinematically, but his final written story has not turned out that way. In terms of his contemporaries, I think it is part of the same trend or developement in 'horror' as Von Trier's 'Anti-Christ', a sort of para-psychological masochism. I also think that seeing Portman in 'Closer' may have influenced his selection of her, and thereby there is an indirect influence there.

    Overall, the effect on my own viewing of the story reminded me most of Polanski's Ninth Gate (predictable/familiar yet darkly gripping and concerned with reconciling duality), 'Rosemary's Baby' (a grotesque personal sacrifice in the name of a high minded ideal, in that case motherhood), Otto Preminger's 'Whirlpool' (a sheltered woman starts to become awakened to her dark potential as a result of an ill-understood, maligne influence and drives herself mad believing she has done far worse than she actually has before realising that she has the strength to see this unstoppable enlightenment/transformation through to its conclusion) and Hitchcocks 'Vertigo' (Judy/Madeleine's identity crisis and obsessions over John's expectations/misunderstanding of her, contrasted to the more strong minded, disciplined, motherly and scornful Midge) + Hitchcock's use of Doppelganger's generally.

  • Comment number 38.

    one slightly left of field idea that occured to me was that, as in Pi and The Fountain, there is a reference in the film to neuro-science. Afterall, the film is basically taking us on a trip inside a pressure cooker mind and the fantasies which it are making real somehow. Both Hitchcock and Aronofsky are utilising well researched psychological theories - one modern piece of science may further illuminate the story - the fact that they have discovered that in most of us the left side of the brain usually dominated the right, keeping our fantasies and irrational experiences undercontrol with swiftly conjured rationalisations... but how would we see the world if the black left came to dominate the white right? We all have the potential in us to become the Black Swan.

  • Comment number 39.

    Thought Black Swan was the most appalling load of mawkish drivel I've seen for a long time - after all the hype I was expecting something moderately watchable, but the toe curling hammy acting, the over the top black and white decor everywhere, the hackneyed pantomime villains and the nonsense of the whole story was too much - I'm only disappointed that so much money was wasted in making it.

  • Comment number 40.

    Antimode, I'm glad I wasn't the only one thinking of the Swan Lake scene from Morecambe & Wise's 'The Intelligence Men' - I did keep expecting Eric Morecambe (or his latterday doppelganger Elvis Costello) on a cardboard black swan in the dance scenes!


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