Natalie Portman morphs into a prima ballerina with some serious body issues as she takes on the role of her career.
When you think of ballet, the first thing that comes to mind is pretty girls in fairy tu-tus, all twinkle and twirl. And while Black Swan has its fair share of that, it’s the sinister underbelly beneath those tu-tus that takes centre stage here.
To say that Nina Sayers is under pressure is an under statement. Her overbearing mother, Barbara Hershey, is a former ballerina who now pins all her hopes on her daughter. But while Nina is physically up to the challenge of playing both Princess Odette and her evil twin Odile in ‘Swan Lake’, her emotional state is unstable.
Pushed to perfection by her manipulative artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassell), Nina struggles to find the key to her dark side. Her jealous predecessor Beth (Winona Ryder), is constantly on the attack and when a new dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) is introduced to the company, threatening to take the coveted part from her, it looks like Nina might snap.
Instead, she develops a severe case of dermatillomania or compulsive skin picking and creates a fantasy world where she finds sexual release from all her torment.
It took nearly a decade for director Darren Aronofsky to produce his long talked about ballet movie but it was definitely worth the wait. He originally spoke with Portman about it when she was 20 and it went through many different incarnations, from a version based on Dostoevsky’s novella ‘The Double: A Petersberg Poem’, to being a part of his previous film The Wrestler. It’s hard to imagine that version, a love story between Portman’s character and Mickey Rourke’s, but one thing is clear and that is that with both of them winning Oscars for their respective roles, Aronofsky has a wonderful way with actors.
Portman is astonishingly accomplished in this film. She studied ballet for nine years as a kid and then paid for a year’s worth of intensive tuition before playing the part. There was a dance double for a few wide shots but 80% of the dancing is her own. And the chillingly psychological acting is all hers.
Essentially this is a horror film. I was screaming and hiding my eyes in parts. Clint Mansell’s score takes Tchaikovsky’s original music and makes it a whole lot scarier driving the movie to its shocking climax. The little girl inside Nina must die for her to play the Black Swan and the metamorphosis that takes place in her is truly blood curdling. If you thought werewolves were scary, wait til you meet this wereswan!
Black Swan takes the idea of suffering for your art to new extremes and gives us a damn fine film in the process.
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