Entering the crowded arena of horror movies swoops Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, with grace and style enough to show up the borrowed nostalgia scares and toothless gorefrenzies of modern horror films for what they are, and in doing so giving me one of my favourite films of last year.

The merits of Darren Aronofsky’s latest were well argued in Ian’s review of the film back in January, and it was a clear favourite when it played the festival circuit last year.  Now that the film arrives on Blu-ray and DVD we can revisit it to see if the dark tale of perfection and perception holds up to a second viewing. Short answer: It does. Here’s why.

I cannot deny there was a tangible thrill when I opened the envelope containing the Black Swan Blu-ray; the film’s release in Japan has just pushed its earning past the $300 million mark proving two things: audiences will flock to challenging adult drama and that Aronofsky continues to develop as a filmmaker capable of producing work to critical and commercial acclaim.

Aronofsky’s film of a fragile ballet dancer finding her dark side in order to play both the white and black swan in Swan Lake is a masterclass is disorientation and seduction with Natalie Portman deservedly winning her Oscar for her portrayal of Nina, and the transformation she undergoes is painful and carefully handled. We are drawn into her rapidly enfolding world as the preparations for the opening night see her losing her grip on reality, ‘helped’ by Vincent Cassel’s domineering director and Mila Kunis’s flirtatious understudy. Aronofsky peppers the film with visual tricks and eerie images, but we never lose focus on Nina’s struggle and doomed triumph.

It’s my favourite of the director’s film; it’s an eerie and very serious fairy tale, dripping with paranoia and we watch the onslaught of a dozen psychological and physical terrors on our Swan Queen again and again, not because she it is fun to watch her crumble beneath the numerous weights, rather it is the constant tension between the light and dark, the real world and Nina’s constructed reality which gives the film its momentum.

The Blu-ray is a shining example of delivering a polished high-definition transfer of a film and embellishing it with some decent extras. Here we have a mixture of superficial portraits of its stars as well an essential ninety minute documentary, entitled Metamorphosis, taking us from the initial ideas, through design, choreography, shooting and post production. Aronosfksy and his cast and crew are a rightfully proud and gregarious bunch, happy to go into details of the challenges of shooting in a bitterly cold December New York as they are to tease us with alternative visual effects for the final transformation. Some of the film’s obvious symbolic elements, the overarching light and dark is one example, are given time and are illuminated by the comments made. The documentary’s style borrows from the vérité nature of the film itself and a feeling creeps upon you that Arnofsky’s passion pervades the production completely; the film is brighter and sharper on a second watch after the documentary has been viewed.

Character profiles of the main players are a nice thought as the film invites you to dive beneath the surface but the pleasure of this film is to notice what is not obvious, the moments that passed you by in the cinema, the moment the dance troupe are made up of Nina’s dopplegangers is one I missed and I have a feeling that there are more to be found. Aronofsky has created a disquieting and powerful film, reminiscent of Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and elements had me in mind of a lost Disney Horror The Watcher in the Woods, but this is so much more than The Red Shoes remade by David Lynch. The transfer is solid, the sound design tremendously effective in any half decent home cinema system and I was surprised at how little the film lost in translation to the smaller screen. If you haven’t seen it, you should and quickly.


Film: [Rating:4/5]

Blu-ray: [Rating:3/5]

Special Features:

  • Metamorphosis: A Three-Part Series–A behind the scenes look at the filmmaking process from Darren Aronofsky’s visionary directing, to the physically-demanding acting, to the stunning special effects. Illuminating and essential viewing.
  • Behind the Curtain–An inside look at the film’s costume and production design. Worth a watch for the production design conversation.
  • Ten Years in the Making–Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky discuss their creative journey, from “preparing for the role” to “dancing with the camera”, thankfully light on the “she’s such a wonderful actress” balls.
  • Cast Profiles: Roles of a Lifetime–Fox Movie Channel Produced superfluities.