Oscar Profile: Black Swan

by Tom Ingram

Black Swan is a horror movie about a repressed and naive ballerina discovering her dark side for a performance of Swan Lake. Natalie Portman plays Nina, who lives in an apartment with her controlling mother. Nina is troubled by the weird things happening around her–the continual appearance of a doppelganger, paintings that seem to move, mysterious rashes, and her mother’s hair-trigger temper which is set off by the strangest things.

It only gets stranger as the movie goes along. Black Swan maintains a soft spoken, dreamlike atmosphere throughout, with a constant feeling that something is subtly wrong. As Nina’s hallucinations become more vivid, it’s difficult to tell what is actually happening versus what she sees, which leads to a plot that’s incomprehensible at times.

It also goes a little overboard on some of the horror movie tropes. Nina will close her eyes in the bath, only to open them and see someone standing over her trying to drown her. She shuts herself in a room that appears to be empty, but something jumps out at her. This sort of thing is mechanically scary–it probably will cause you to jump now and then and maybe look over your shoulder–but they’re so overused that you can see them coming. By the end, every time Nina looks in one direction a hallucination assaults her from another.

That’s not to say that Black Swan is bad, or that it isn’t scary. The psychological horror works very well. Monsters jumping out of closets is just not well suited to this type of movie.


Black Swan has nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Darren Aronofsky), Best Actress (Natalie Portman), Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. It was not nominated for Best Original Score, which is a shame because that Tchaikovsky kid looks promising.

For Best Picture, it’s nice that it got nominated, but I don’t think it’s a serious challenger for the award. Its various flaws and especially its sheer “what the fuck” factor mean it can’t and shouldn’t beat the more solid contenders like The King’s Speech or The Social Network

However, Portman is a good choice for best actress. She faces the classic problem of portraying a character who is an actor–you have to play the roles of the character, the character’s character, and possibly the character playing the character’s character–only multiplied unto itself, since she actually plays two characters who play two characters. She’s convincing no matter what layer of meta-acting she’s in.

I usually withhold my opinion on Cinematography and Editing because I don’t know much about them. In this case, however, I noticed that the cinematography seemed to subtly comment on the action without getting obtrusive, which is a serious risk when a director tries to be Artistic with the cameras. The movement of the camera was as hypnotic and captivating as the ballet dancers. I’m not sure about Editing, but I think this deserves the award for Cinematography.