In Black Swan, a young prima ballerina (Natalie Portman) succumbs to the immense pressure of her forthcoming debut in a challenging lead role and slowly begins to lose her mind.
Black Swan may not contain flawless storytelling, but it is an excellent slice of sexually-charged and unsettling horror, nicely shot and scored. From the prowling camerawork – and numerous visual references to doppelgangers and distorted mirror reflections that echo the theme of duality – it”‘s obvious what director Darren Aronosky was going for, but, regrettably, he doesn”‘t quite achieve the frisson of a true psychological horror picture. Had it been Roman Polanski or Brian de Palma behind the lens, this movie would have been a classic. (Black Swan unquestionably owes a debt to both Repulsion and Carrie.)
Hence, this superb yet disquieting movie is not for all tastes. Thanks to its subtle visual effects and a relentless plot, tinged with the elegant music of Tchaikovsky in contrast with the racy allure of lesbian sex, Black Swan is a nervy, suspenseful film.
The entire cast is excellent, from witchy Barbara Hershey as her suffocating Mom to sleazy Vincent Cassell as the ballet company’s exacting Artistic Director and her new rival, a menacing Mila Kunis. Winona Ryder has a great cameo as a washed-up prima ballerina that Portman’s character replaces.
Much has been made of how Portman (and Kunis ) trained with the American Ballet Company for an entire year to prepare for this grueling and physically challenging role. It has also been reported that both the petite leads, Portman and Kunis, melted 20 pounds from their already tiny figures in order to portray a professional ballerina convincingly.
It’s evident that Portman executed the vast majority of her own dancing. A body double was allegedly used sparingly, with Portman’s head digitally placed on the double”™s moving body. She looks frail and gorgeous (reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn), and gives a fantastic and involving performance that takes us along on her descent into hellish insanity.
As the story deliberately confuses reality with the inner workings of an increasingly deranged mind, it’s important to remember that Portman’s character is an unreliable witness, that is to say, everything we see is through her distorted vision. While there are creepy scenes of body horror that suggest self-mutilation, such as the peeling of her skin from her fingers and the nervous scratching of her back creating a wound that never seems to heal, in regards to the horror element, Aronosky doesn’t nearly go far enough.
In this challenging performance, Portman is beyond amazing and delivers a fantastic performance that has already been highly acclaimed. She has been anointed with several important wins for Best Actress, including the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama; the Austin, Chicago and Boston Society of Film Critics awards; as well as the nomination for aÂ British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and for the Academy Award.
Portman is the favorite to win the Oscar for Best Actress this February. The only perceptible opposition to her taking the statue could be Annette Bening for her performance opposite Julianne Moore in The Kids Are Alright.
Review by Pauline Adamek