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Top Ten: Black Swan's Best Shots

by Ilich Mejía

TFE is highly anticipating Darren Aronofsky's upcoming mother!. The film welcomes a reunion between Aronofsky and American cinematographer Matthew Libatique, shortly after they last collaborated on 2014's Noah and 2010's Black Swan. A lot of parrallels have already been drawn across the latter and mother!, including similarities between their cracked-doll posters and doesn't this bloody rug remind anyone of a certain mirror-sharded dress

To show how desparetely we can't wait to see what new images Aronofsky and Libatique will sear into our psyches when mother! premieres, we're going to look back and pick our ten favorite shots from Black Swan. Libatique's gorgeous, dark cinematography earned him his first Academy Award nomination. Presumably, the Academy was as impressed as we were by his interpretation of the film's theme's of duality and control. 

Let's dissect our favorite frames from the psychological drama after the jump...

ONE: Black Swan spreads her wings.

Natalie Portman may be Libatique's biggest accomplice in making these frames pulse with dread and dramatics. Her Nina is introduced as a stark source of shapely light, pure and oblivious to the forces that are about to cover her in fear.

TWO: Thomas casts two queens in one.

Enter Vincent Cassel's Thomas, the director that eventually casts Nina as both the White Swan and Black Swan. Libatique briefly introduces Thomas as two (a mirror to mirror technique that ABC's Scandal can't seem to stop overusing), hinting at the movie's many dichotomies to come. 

THREE: Black-tie bathroom break.

Speaking of, the palette of Amy Westcott's costumes underscores the restraint and control (white) that inhibit the naturalistic freedom (black) of each of the characters. Nina finds herself imprisoned in whites and soft pinks as she struggles to portray her Black Swan and envies the dark effortlessness of Mila Kunis' Lily.

FOUR: Club trip.

 Conveniently, things change lots for Nina after Lily lets her borrow a black lace top to put over her white cami. Nina embraces her freedom during this club drug trip, easily one of the film's hightlights. The cinematography and editing work like aces to loosen Nina up. When you watch the scene in full and carefully, you'll spot a basketfull of Easter eggs that reveal Nina pulling back several of her anchors. Pause constantly and you'll spot Nina's many faces of anxiety (pictured here), Thomas' flirting, and her mother's lurking. 

FIVE: Lily glides.

Libatique uses motion as his best asset. He assertively captures the film's choreography to demonstrate the character's body language as a definition of their state. He does this especially well when shooting Kunis' Lily, whose silky movements refuse any formalities. His shooting of Nina's earlier motions, in contrast, highlight her anxities hovering from vertiginous angles and often switching to tight close ups. Here, Lily adapts the choreography to her liking and all eyes are on her. 

SIX: Innocence is lost.

Because our little girl is growing up. So to speak.

SEVEN: Subway impatience.

The movie also plays with the underground as a metaphor for the unilluminated, immoral bubbles under the theater stage's seemingly perfect facade. Nina embraces the anxieties she represses at work and ignores at home most directly when she's alone underground or rehearsing in basements. Libatique shoots unpleasant scenes in subway trains and stations often. Nina first confronts her darker alter ego underground and can't seem to shake her off once seen. 

EIGHT: Black Swan makes her mark.

Of course, once Nina embraces her instincts and loosens her grip on technique and precision, the darkest monster comes out. This shot is a gorgeous bookend to shot ONE, effectively destroying the White Swan's purity and stability. 

NINE: Dreams come true.

Barbara Hershey's Mom Queen realizes her daughter has broken free from her passive aggression, for better or worse, in this close-up bloated with shaken fear. A major transition that should have earned Hershey a greater due.

TEN: Fade to white.

She felt it. She was perfect. 

BONUS: Because can't take your prestige flick seriously if it doesn't feature our lead soaking in thought in a moody bathtub. 

What frames could you not get our of your head after watching Black Swan? Share your favorites.

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Reader Comments (22)

Good post. Thanks for it. I really love the cinematography in Black Swan. It's infused with darkness - as if the images are an inch thick and ants are crawling all through that inch. It gives the film a sinister but also slightly hallucinatory feel that helps incorporate the film's fantastical elements. It makes it all more believable. Libatique did smashing work here. I'd have given him that year's Cinematography Oscar.

September 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Hershey was definitely not given her due with Kunis sucking up the supporting kudos.

September 12, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Sarah, if what you wrote actually happens in the film then I hope every movie you look forward to from here on out gets spoiled before you see it. How obnoxiously rude! The film turned you off and so you decide to ruin it for those of us who are looking forward to it? Even if it is "tracking to be a giant flop" the readers of this site in particular are obviously excited about it and what you did was clearly not an accident. Grow up.

September 12, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Agree with thefilmjunkie. Sara's post was incredibly rude.

September 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBecausewhynot

Rude or consumer protection? I appreciate the warning.

September 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBL

Sarah, Many of us have been purposely avoiding reviews of mother!

Show respect for those of us who are planning on seeing the movie this weekend.

September 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

I am really not interested in this movie
But I think it was disrespectful to give
possible elements in the movie away!

If you read this blogsite, you know regulars
are fanatical about this

September 12, 2017 | Unregistered Commenternatalie

Had to remove Sarah's comment because it contained probable spoilers for a movie I (and a lot of you) have not seen.

Feel free to comment again, Sarah! Just keep it spoiler-free, please.

September 12, 2017 | Registered CommenterIlich Mejia

I am sorry if I hit a nerve but I would just caution people that mother is both disturbing and disappointing. The subject matter and how women are treated may bother a lot of people.

September 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Sarah - you didn't hit a nerve, you spoiled the movie. You don't have the right to deprive us of our movie going experience just because you think the movie might disturb us.

Ilich - thanks for removing Sarah's post.

September 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBecausewhynot

Is TFE now censoring speech? Get over yourselves

September 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBL

Sarah revealing some spoliers for a movie that for a year has kept spoilers to almost zero in this crazy internet world was rather misguided.

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

You know? That's why we need Hit Me With Your Best Shot back.

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Black Swan is probably is my most favorite film this decade. I can't wait to watch mother!
Suffice to say the club scene is a masterpiece, Kunis finally broke through in this movie and PORTMAN DESERVES HER OSCAR!

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Unfortunately people can be very rude about spoils. Reminds me of that post awhile back where someone was going out of their way to spoil Murder on the Orient Express for those who hadn't seen the original.

There is a subset of commenters who actively enjoy spoiling.

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

**lol** at the suggestion that removing a movie spoiler for a movie that hasn't come out yet from a private movie-appreciation site is "censorship." And by lol I mean heave-worthy eyeroll. And hey, the original poster even got to write again to clarify her position. So, um, not censorship.

Now, on topic: this is a great article. Lots of well-chosen images. I like this as an addition to the HMWYBS format so that a lot of images that don't scream obvious "best!" or "most representative!" make it, such as Hershey's reaction shot or Kunis' orgasmic stretch. It's also amazing to me that something that could very easily come off as over-the-top SYMBOLISM! (black/white costuming) works very subtly. Thanks for the nice write-up.

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

I am always up for appreciations of this film's look, and how the performances fit it. I'd say it's career best work from Portman and Aronofsky (I think Portman deserved her Oscar - although I'd certainly respect voting for Kidman for Rabbit Hole that year), and I was hoping Libatique would win (although I don't mind Pfister winning for Inception). Very happy to see shot Two here, partially because it's excellent, and partially because while Kunis and Hershey were great, I don't think Cassel got enough credit for how good he was in this.

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

I'm definitely going to have to watch the club scene again. Fascinating :)

I've interpreted this movie to be (along with the obsessive pursuit of perfection) a story about the transfer of trauma from parent to child. That's the theme that hits me each time I've seen it. So that shot of Hershey says a lot to me.

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKJ

Black Swan is a trip. I don't know what Sarah said because it was censored, but it does seem mother is being dumped in theaters. The stars are not doing any mainstream promotion. I wonder if Jennifer's fans will be disappointed that she is starring in an offbeat violent film where X and X happens. Paramount seems embarrassed by it after that disastrous screening in Venice where it was booed. Free speech!

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJose

Oh my god, I saw this in the theater! I thought that because I am gay, I would be exempt from feeling awkward while watching an erotic lesbian scene with my dad.

I was very wrong.

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

This is one of those cinematic experiences I can't believe exists but am happy that it does. Barbara Hershey's, "then it's garbage!" line has been part of my vocabulary ever since. She so deserved an Oscar nom that year. :)

September 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

Still sad Mila Kunis couldn't get nominated. Happy Jacki Weaver did tho. But Mila, man.
I wish she cared about more than just paychecks because I feel like she has a really interesting/offbeat/quirky/indie tour-de-force performance lying within her. Like a role/performance that just defines her for the rest of her life. I could see it.


September 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

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