You think your job is tough? Try dancing in the ballet. The quest for perfection, to twist and train and subordinate one’s body and mind to such an unnatural state likely has driven more than a few potential ballerinas to the brink of insanity. In Black Swan, Natalie Portman doesn’t just walk that fine line, she brisé-s right over it.
Nailing the lead role of the White Swan in Swan Lake is no problem for Good Girl, Nina (awards-magnet Natalie Portman). It’s the Black Swan, a role more naturally suited to Bad Girl, Lily (Mila Kunis), that presents a challenge. The two rivals begin a tension-filled pas de deux early on, forming a torrid bond previously unfamiliar yet irresistible to Nina. Nonetheless, Nina unravels as she strips away at herself, tearing away the layers preventing her from achieving perfection and embracing her own bad girl.
Largely overlooked by nominating boards, Kunis brings a depth to her role as Bad Girl/Black Swan Lily that contradicts her early, light comedy upbringing on That ’70s Show. Portman is also supported by strong performances from actors we’ve not seen recently. Winona Ryder plays Beth, the aging principal dancer being shoved out of the spotlight by Nina, with fire and skill. And Barbara Hershey’s chilling portrait of a stage mother living through her more talented daughter rivals Deena Lohan’s.
Director Darren Aronofsky’s choice to employ a monochromatic visual theme itself helps propel the story, making the expanding speck of color in the final scenes all the more vivid, much as the technique did in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. And oh, that music: Chemical Brothers, Sepalcure, and Pete Min all contribute themes sampling Tchaikovsky for a sound resulting in a “Trancekovsky” of sorts that should have won its own Oscar.
While it can’t be denied that Black Swan is a horror thriller—and a profound one, at that—it also teaches us a few things: don’t do drugs, but do take calcium. It also reminds us that we all have our inner black-and-white swans, whether those swans be an inner secret, self-doubt, our sexuality, or simply an innate yearning to express who we are. Eventually, one way or another, both swans take wing, emerging in some manner, at some time. The trick is to control them before they control us.
Nominated for no less than 108 various film industry awards, and snagging the Best Actress Oscar for Natalie Portman, Black Swan is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray disc. 2011. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment (fox.com).