There is no doubt that the immense pressure to succeed in the world of professional ballet can be crippling for those who chose it as their calling. Parents and instructors are intrusive enough with their expectations; however an even larger source of stress is rivalry with other dancers for the top slots in stage productions.
Nina (Natalie Portman), the main character in Darren Aronofsky’s intense psychological thriller “Black Swan,” has to deal with all of this external drama, none of which compares though to the mess she has cooked up in her own head. This is because Nina literally is her own worst critic, placing more anxiety on her own performance than her mother, director, and colleagues could possibly heap on together.
Despite being an adult, Nina shares an apartment with her mother, who is an ex-dancer. She lives and breathes her work, avoiding the temptations faced by others her age like drinking, drugs, junk food, and sex. As a result, the paper thin Nina looks like a sad porcelain doll on the verge of cracking from the slightest disappointment at the outset of the film.
Her director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) believes that she has the technical talent to play the Swan Queen in his upcoming production of “Swan Lake,” however he doubts her strength of personality to play the character’s evil twin the Black Swan. Through begging, Nina convinces Thomas to give her the part though. The obsessive perfectionist slowly begins to drive herself mad, fueling her own insecurity about the role of the Black Swan.
The appearance of an attractive dark haired dancer in her company named Lily (Mila Kunis) at first provides Nina with an outlet for her stress and a friend. Nina quickly becomes paranoid of Lily’s intentions though, believing that Lily is plotting to steal her role. This suspicion grows into a complex web as you lose yourself inside Nina’s head, unsure of what is real and what she has imagined about Lily.
“Black Swan” successfully conveys the immense pressures of professional dancing, through the dark effects that it has on the body and the psyche for Nina. Portman’s form clearly displays signs of significant weight loss and malnourishment that went into playing the role. Beyond her physical appearance, Portman’s ability to lose herself in Nina’s psychotic delusions so convincingly helps you in the audience descend into madness with her.
Aronofsky’s skill at blending frightening hallucination seamlessly with reality just he did in “Requiem for a Dream” is mixed here with a handheld camera that follows the characters and their dancing closely.
While his devotion to thoroughly portraying the subject of ballet is impressive, Aronofsky’s shaky handheld camerawork can make you a bit woozy at points. You will find yourself engrossed as you attempt to separate reality from delirium, but sadly there are also parts where the pacing of the story dips enough to make you shifty in your seat.
My Grade: B+