[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00B8863ZO][/pullquote] Darren Aronofsky is quickly gathering a reputation as a director who propels his actors to acclaim and accolades. Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream) Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler) have all received Oscar nods for their gritty performances in his films and now Natalie Portman can be added to the list in her Academy Award winning turn as the fragile and frigid ballerina who has to get it on with her bad side.
After ageing prima ballerina Beth (Winona Ryder) is forced to retire, Nina (Portman) is chosen to step into her shoes and wins the coveted role of the swan queen. With flawless technique, Nina is a perfect choice to play the delicate and fearful white swan, but the role demands that the same ballerina also play the white swan’s alter ego or evil twin, the Black Swan. Enter Lily (Mila Kunis) who, with cascading hair, tattoos and a frivolous attitude to sex and drugs embodies the personality of the black swan. Jealously, sexual experimentation and hallucinations ensue as Nina gets closer to Lily and ultimately confuses her identity as the virginal mummy’s girl with the temptress she must become.
The world of Black Swan is seen entirely through the eyes of the troubled dancer, and whilst the subject matter gives Portman plenty of chances to flex her Oscar-courting muscles, Nina is too cold for us to ever really root for her success or survival; which is a shame because the supporting cast is excellent and brings to life a well-realized screenplay.
Nina undergoes a metamorphosis, physically as well as metaphorically and the film is loaded with beautifully rendered symbolism and imagery. The framework of the ballet is used to great dramatic effect to explore the paranoia, crisis and tragic triumph the protagonist ultimately experiences. Black Swan‘s greatest achievement is also its fundamental flaw; it is -like its main character- hysterical, melodramatic and too ludicrous to exist in any world other than its own.
We are made to feel as ballerinas often do; that the stage is their world and nothing exists outside of it.