Black Swan is a visually stunning and disturbing melodrama that’s been alternatively described as a dark psychological thriller, and a campy horror film. Set in the punishing world of ballet, where stardom is perhaps at its most fleeting, Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, an aspiring lead with a New York dance company, who’s determined to land the coveted part of the Swan Queen in an upcoming production of Swan Lake. The company director (played by Vincent Cassel) thinks Nina is perfectly suited to play the virginal White Swan, but isn’t so sure if the shy, repressed dancer has what it takes to play the Black Swan, her sexually charged evil twin.
He asks Nina to find her darker, more sensual side, and also instructs her to observe the company’s new ballerina, the free-spirited Lily (played by Mila Kunis), whom he appoints as Nina’s understudy for the big role. Lily offers Nina her friendship and more, and pretty soon Nina is convinced Lily wants to steal her role. Haunted by her own reflection in the mirror, and troubled over a feather-like skin-rash she seems to have acquired, Nina becomes increasingly anxious with every passing day.
The movie goes off in all sorts of crazy directions, depicting various events that may or may not be figments of Nina’s imagination. Challenged to tap into her dark side, Nina becomes increasingly lost in a waking nightmare of all her fears and neuroses, and much of the film’s final act involves piecing together this jigsaw puzzle of reality and illusion.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan is strangely fascinating and wildly unpredictable, and like his last film The Wrestler, the protagonist here suffers intense pain in order to please an audience. Natalie Portman offers a committed, mesmerizing performance as the tortured artist, and it’s hardly surprising that her showy, bloated turn won her an Oscar.
Refreshingly original and stunningly photographed, the film’s last ten minutes, in particular, will give you gooseflesh. I’m going with four out of five for Black Swan. It’s a haunting piece of cinema that stays with you.