Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan is the most bizarrely fascinating film since Mulholland Dr. in 2001. This is a dreamlike moviegoing experience that will mesmerize some and make others unintentionally laugh at its sheer bewilderment. Whether you dig Black Swan or not though, it's certainly a picture you'll be talking about with your fellow audience members after the screening is finished. Between Shutter Island, Inception, and now Black Swan, 2010 has proven to be a truly great year for movies with the audacity to steer up thoughtful conversation.
Natalie Portman gives the performance of a lifetime as Nina, a gentle, fragile woman with the ambition to become the Swan Queen in her ballet company's production of Swan Lake. Nina is like a 12-year-old trapped in a grown woman's body. Her room is draped in pink and decorated with stuffed animals. Although she claims to not be a virgin I doubt she's ever really had a sexual encounter. Nina's repression likely has a lot to do with her former-ballerina mother, superbly played by Barbara Hershey. On her exterior Nina's mother seems like a caring parent who loves and supports her child. Inside though she seems to be holding back animosity towards Nina for succeeding in the profession she failed at. She pushes Nina to remain the same innocent little girl and never mature.
The artistic director of the ballet company, played by Vincent Cassel, believes that Nina is perfect to play the White Swan. However, he is unconfident that Nina has the boldness or edge to play the Black Swan. Nevertheless, he gives Nina the part of the Swan Queen probably because he just wants to sleep with her. A new girl at the dance studio named Lily, played by Mila Kunis in another winning performance, befriends Nina. Where Nina is confined and obeying, Lily is rebellious and never afraid to speak her mind. She helps to bring out the subdued bad girl in Nina. As Nina becomes more of a black swan though, the world around her begins to unravel. She becomes paranoid and fearful that Lily might be trying to steal her spotlight as the Swan Queen.
This is the most arresting performance of Portman's acting career that will surely warrant an Oscar nomination and hopefully a win. At times the 29-year-old actress draws on the same stimulating lines of Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. Like the protagonist in that film, Nina is often conflicted to whether everybody is plotting against her or if she's loosing her own sanity. Portman utterly embodies the challenging character of Nina, appearing physically and emotionally exhausted much of the time. By the end of the movie, I was practically worn out by the site of Portman's outstanding and fearless portrayal.
Black Swan isn't without its shortcomings, which prevents it from becoming a perfect movie. The musical score is a tad too aware of itself and often batters the audience over the head. Some may be turned off by several strange dream sequences in which it appears Nina may literally turn into a black swan similar to Jeff Goldblum's transformation in The Fly. On the whole though, Black Swan is nothing short of a beautifully shot, captivating physiological thriller that I will not be forgetting any time soon. If you yourself know the story of Swan Lake, some of the films ironic turns will be easy to predict. But Black Swan is such an exhilarating ride, that it'd be a travesty to miss.