Nina and Erica Sayers’ lives are headed in opposite directions. Nina is young and beautiful and talented. She is a rising star in a major ballet company. Her mother Erica is already past her prime. Aronofsky portrays her as jealous and jaded. She is always wrapped up in her daughter’s affairs. Erica rarely allows her only child any basic freedoms except for screaming when her nails are cut so short they bleed. Instead, Nina is sheltered and pampered but obsessively so. Their relationship at all times appears to be strained and on the brink of a catastrophic collapse.
Lily is the newest addition to the ballet team. She is barely 25, if that, and has a world of talent and sexuality at her disposal. She is a terrible gossip and looks for holes in the armor of our leading lady. She is poised to pounce like an animal at all times to get ahead. Lily is not afraid to dabble in the Lesbian arts of cunnilingus. Viewer beware, there are several stunning and steamy scenes between Portman and Kunis. It is every Kunis fan’s wildest highlight reel dream come true.
Beth is retiring after the upcoming ballet season. By all appearances her retirement is not consensual. She is no longer a marketable star and is being pushed out to allow fresh new faces to help the company return to its more profitable ways. Beth seems disgusted with her new replacement in the debut show of the season, Swan Lake (the director’s new variation of the timeless ballet classic Swan Lake). Rather than embracing her exit, Beth becomes tormented and lashes out against herself and her director whom she fitfully loves, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel).
Thomas is so much more than a director, he is a passionate leader. Being a master motivator, a money-making machine and a fierce lover comes easily to him. In order to coordinate Swan Lake Thomas needs to ensure its star Nina and the entire company will be supremely prepared. This involves choosing Lily as the understudy, and most importantly, he must motivate Nina. Nina shows difficulty loosening up at all times. She is a perfectionist and too often relies on self-flagellation as a mechanism for concentrating. Her unhealthy habits and wild imagination are causes for concern. In order to compel his dancer to become more flexible in her swan duality, Thomas kisses her and assigns her homework: to masturbate. I suppose I am already done with my studies and I eagerly await being assigned an A. Repetition is the key people. Lily sees an opening and seduces Nina with the use of alcohol and ecstasy, but in reality nothing is as it seems.
This picture is full of nuance, metaphor, misdirection and mythmaking. Everything is dark, dreary and morbid. We never know from one instant to the next which characters are real or imagined. Viewers may also experience dizziness and confusion from the fast and furious ballet maneuvers and the constant parade of hallucinations. It is hard to discern if Nina is psychologically deranged or simply stressed out over being the lead in a major ballet production. She seems to be ready to snap like a bamboo stick. Perhaps the most fascinating puzzle that needs to be unlocked is why Nina sees herself undergo several metamorphoses while looking in the mirror. Encouraged to push her dark persona to its limit, Nina has visions of herself growing dark wings and falls into psychological disarray.
You may have noticed I have employed a considerable number of superlatives throughout this review. This is intentional and not for the purpose of hyperbolization. Every aspect of Black Swan is delivered with the utmost amount of skill, craft and preparation. No stone is left unturned. Director Aronofsky is as impressive as his ensemble of actresses. Kunis and Portman and Cassel work fabulously together. Their ability to sustain ballet maneuvers professionally is a testament to their desire to create something special here. In all likelihood Portman will win an Oscar award for Best Actress. If she does I have no objection whatsoever. Though Black Swan may be a disturbing and frequently confusing picture, it is also a brilliant one with many wonderful performances. This is one film not to be missed by serious movie lovers.
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