Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a riveting, florid walk on the wild side of dancing, desire and self-destruction, wrapped inside a scenario that incorporates elements of “The Red Shoes,” “All About Eve” and even a little “Single White Female.” The exquisite Natalie Portman is Nina, a New York ballerina who pushes her body and punishes herself in an everlasting desire for perfection.
It’s this desire that leads her to try for the lead role of the White Swan—it’s the same rigid obsession with perfection that leads the ballet director (Vincent Cassel) to question whether Nina has the wild abandon to convey the White Swan’s dark side. (I’ve never seen a complete performance of “Swan Lake” but I’m guessing the lead role is like the “Hamlet” for dancers). To her surprise, Nina is given the lead, and thus earns the wrath of the former prima ballerina Winona Ryder, the friendship-and possible rivalry-of free-spirit ballerina Lily (Mila Kunis-who can do the dark side-very well), the watchful, and possibly unsavory eye of Mr. Cassel—and the smothering attention from her ambitious stage mother (a blazing Barbara Hershey).
Aronofsky , working from a script by Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman, and John McLaughlin, has created a compelling melodrama that constantly plays with expectations, as well as illusion vs. reality. The rehearsal scenes provide an intense display of what the dancers must endure on a daily basis; in Portman’s capable hands (and feet), we see her rigidity and repression which present a striking contrast to the rapacious Lily. As Nina strives to capture (apparently unsuccessfully) the dark side in art, forces compel her to flirt with the darker side of life. Ambition, guilt, paranoia envelop her and there’s no easy way out: an evening with the ambitious, fun-loving, Lily turns into a drug-induced unleashing of pent-up sexual desire—yet Nina’s alternative, staying in with her fiercely possessive mother- is an altogether repulsive option. Aronofsky’s passionate filmmaking keeps the viewer a little off-balance throughout, punctuated by violent episodes almost out of a slasher film—especially in the last section, as Nina tries to overcome immense opening night anxieties in her quest for perfection. I won’t tell you what happens—as it is certainly worth accompanying Nina on this dark journey.