REVIEW: ‘Black Swan’

Alice Fisher | Staff Writer

Natalie Portman gives the best performance of her career in Darren Aronofsky’s stunning fever nightmare “Black Swan.” Portman plays the role of Nina Sayers, a ballerina who has toiled for years, desiring to not only be noticed by director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) but to also be perfect. She practices in front of her mirror until every step is just right. “I want to be perfect,” she tells him in a sweet voice as she begs for the role of the Swan Queen.

Thomas believes that she is excellent as the pure, virginal White Swan, but lacks the verve and passion of the Black Swan. Nina also receives pressure from rival dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) and her ex-dancer mother (Barbara Hershey). As she strives to please all parties, she slowly spirals out of control, having violent hallucinations and nightmares.

Much like the protagonists of his Oscar-nominated “The Wrestler,” the ladies of “Black Swan” suffer in a brutal, unforgiving world. Nina sees this through the eyes of former prima ballerina Beth (Winona Ryder, reminding audiences why they fell in love with her in the first place), who is cast aside for being too old. “But she’s a beautiful dancer,” Nina comments. “So is my grandmother,” a fellow dancer retorts. Nina also looks at her ex-dancer mother (Barbara Hershey), who tragically locks herself in her room, painting and living her dreams through her daughter.

The story is parallel with the ballet Swan Lake. Indeed, even the music, composed brilliantly by Clint Mansell, is a twisted take on the songs performed during the ballet. Though the story is about as subtle as a brick wall, Aronofsky’s craft is executed brilliantly. He and Portman work beautifully together, as if they were both dancing on stage.

The visuals of “Black Swan” must be seen to be believed; they blend in seamlessly with the scenes. As the Black Swan tries desperately to break out of Nina’s skin, it looks haunting and believable. Though viewers may have a tough time sympathizing with Nina, the film doesn’t hesitate to make viewers feel as though they, too, are losing their grasp of reality. The climax of the film is something that has to be seen to be believed.

Everything comes together to create a beautiful, frightening story about one woman’s strive for perfection and the loss of innocence. A scene in the film shows Hershey struggling to keep Nina safe in her pink butterfly room. She asks, “Where’s my sweet girl?” Portman’s eyes dance with fire. The audience knows the answer long before she tells her:

She’s gone.