Black Swan (2010)

What a strange, twisted gem of a movie. Is it drama, horror, a glimpse into the rigors of ballet or a study in madness? What exactly? Well, it’s hard to say because it seems to be a bit of everything. But whatever it is Black Swan is fascinating and riveting! A visual and emotional vortex properly reflecting the mental state of its protagonist, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) a dedicated ballerina at a NYC Ballet company obsessed with perfection.

Nina lives with her over-protective, hovering mother (Barbara Hershey) herself a former ballerina who never made it beyond the ballet corps.

After Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), the manipulative, satyr like artistic director cavalierly sends prima ballerina Beth (Winona Ryder) into retirement, Nina becomes his first choice as her replacement. He particularly has her in mind to play the Snow Queen in his new production of the classic ballet standard Swan Lake. Nina, however, has competition from the daring, shamelessly coquettish new arrival Lily (Mila Kunis).

While Thomas informs Nina that she is perfect for the role of the pure and elegant White Swan, he’s not convinced that she can handle the part of the Black Swan with its requisite cunning and sensuality. Lily, while technically less gifted, is the absolute embodiment of the Black Swan with her unabashed sensuality and spontaneity.  The Swan Queen requires a dancer who can embody both.

Nina is determined to play both roles even if it means descending further into her personal abyss as she connects to her “dark” side and “let’s go” as Thomas suggests. Thomas, however, has no clue just close Nina is teetering on the edge of darkness.

The rivalry between the fragile and innocent Nina and the overconfident and carnal Lily veers into cuckoo land when we witness the films’ infamous “lesbian” scene in which Lily seduces and performs oral sex on Nina in Nina’s bedroom. But wait! Did this really happen? Or is this another one of Nina’s hallucinations as she slips further into madness? Her encounter the next day at rehearsal with Lily would certainly lead us to believe Nina is losing her grip on reality.

Black Swan is not for everyone. Like most of Darren Aronofsky’s films people either love it or hate it. I loved it. I was enamored of Matthew Libatique’s gorgeous cinematography. At times the movie reminded me a bit of Roman Polanki’s Repulsion with its undertones of repressed sexuality and descent into madness as well as of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” with its human-swan hybrid imagery.

In the hands of a less capable director, this movie would have been little more than 108 minutes of observing a dedicated dancer obsessed with perfection while going off the deep end. However, Aronofsky magnificently externalizes Nina’s insanity with glorious and surreal visuals. All the actors deliver great performances, but Natalie Portman truly deserved that Oscar as she carried this film on her shoulders from the first scene to the last. She was perfect.

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