“Black Swan” wants to embody perfection — much like the film’s mousy protagonist, Nina Sayers – and the film comes damn near close to it with a dark, sensual mind-bending plot in the same form as films like “Fight Club” and “Memento.”
If you’re thinking the film could be boring because of a ballet-centric plot, well throw that out the window. It’s a psychological thriller that relishes in the dark and twisted, the struggle between id, ego and superego. “Black Swan” shows us a painful process of mental-molting and you’ll be twitching throughout in disgust and allure.
Darren Aronofsky’s direction is a great triumph after his ambitiously bland 2008 film “The Wrestler.” His vision fleshes out the conflictions of artistry. He humanizes a craft that requires pure dedication and fortitude, only then to shatter it and rebuild it to make it stronger.
All of this madness has gorgeous Natalie Portman as our tutu-garbed heroine, in a role that screams your attention, if not Oscar.
Portman is resplendent and angelic as Nina Sayers, a talented ballerina who is given the role of the Swan Queen in a new imagining of “Swan Lake.” Portman studied for over a year in ballet for the role and has a dancing background that is truly beautiful to watch. Her grace and control as a ballet dancer are so dexterous that she truly becomes the character she’s playing: a talented ballerina who dreams of stardom and will lose herself to achieve it.
Sayers’ overbearing mother, Erica – played by Barbara Hershey – was a ballerina once. But her career never lifted off as she became pregnant with Nina. She wants her daughter to be perfect. So, so perfect.
And this desire for perfection is instilled in her daughter, and the stress begins to literally tear at her flesh. Or does it? The self-injury a dancer performs on herself — a nervous tic of scratching – eats away at the lines between what’s real and what’s fiction.
As the pressure from ballet director Thomas Leroy continues to heighten, so do the stakes as opening night comes ever so quickly. The new girl from San Francisco, Lily, seems predatory against Sayers’ dream of greatness, thanks to a great performance “That ‘70s Show” alum Mila Kunis. Lily’s intentions are a mystery, as she befriends Nina during the course of the production. Is Lily truly a malicious one-upper or is she genuinely caring? Is she a lesbian or a touchy-feely girlfriend?
Love it or hate it, “Black Swan” is a riveting psychological thriller that fiddles with psychosis and obsession while crackling at the heart of an artist’s dedication to her craft. It’s artsy and gorgeously filmed with a subtle grain, all leading up to a beautiful denouement where Portman’s character comes full circle with her inner demons and embraces her id. Spread your wings Swan Queen, they love you.