Ballet is a beautiful and graceful art form…on the stage. Behind the scenes it’s sweat, tears, blood, broken toes and egos.
“Black Swan” captures both of these worlds. Under the direction of Darren Aronofsky, this film manages to be simultaneously breathtakingly beautiful and difficult to watch.
When the story begins Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a quiet, sweet girl who happens to be an enormously talented ballerina.
Living with her mother (Barbara Hershey) a former dancer herself, Nina’s life as far as we can tell consists of sleeping, eating, and dancing. She demands absolute perfection from herself.
All of that changes when she gets cast as the lead in “Swan Lake.” Soon her life begins to mirror that of the ballet’s heroine, the White Swan.
Much like the White Swan of the ballet, Nina’s precision in her life and dancing make her technically perfect and beautiful to behold.
Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), Nina’s choreographer/director/teacher, is thrilled with Nina as the White Swan.
Unfortunately this is only half of the role she must play.
The Black Swan, the White Swan’s evil sister, is meant to be a seductive force on the stage, ultimately destroying the White Swan by driving her to take her own life.
Thomas is adamant (and repetitive) about Nina’s need to let go and seduce the audience. In hopes of making his point, he asks her to observe Lily (Mila Kunis) a new addition to the company and far less meticulous dancer than Nina. But what Lily lacks in technique she makes up for in passion.
In a moment of complete transformation Nina and Lily hit the town for a night of drinks and hallucinogenics. When Nina’s late for rehearsal the next day, Lily steps in, and Nina begins to suspect she’s being played.
The breakdown of Nina’s ousted predecessor Beth (Winona Ryder) compounded with the thought that she may be replaced soon herself send her already strained consciousness into a rapidly spiraling descent into madness.
Whether or not the parallels between the ballet and her life are real or a part of Nina’s paranoid delusions becomes less and less clear as obsession takes control of this sweet girl.
Natalie Portman is inspiring and heart-breaking in this role. The 10 months of ballet she did to prepare is evident and appreciated.
Her final transformation into the Black Swan both on and off stage is magnificent and terrifying. The artistry of the moment combined with the madness (that only we know of) is chilling and beautiful.
Her supporting cast, I hate to call them that, but she is clearly the star of this show, allow her to shine.
Much like ballet, this movie is not for the faint of heart or the weak-stomached. But it is thanks to all of the gruesome moments and hard work behind the scenes that the end result is absolutely stunning.