Pillbox

Black Swan sends viewers on a thrilling journey

“We all know the story.”

So begins the immersion into the world of Swan Lake, as performed by the New York Ballet Company in the movie Black Swan. One dancer, Nina Sayers (portrayed by Natalie Portman), has the talent and the determination to be a star. Her technique is textbook perfection, but her flawlessness breeds an inability to lose herself emotionally in the role of the Black Swan. As the pure and angelic White Swan, Nina is an undeniable choice. But as the White Swan’s evil twin, the seductive Black Swan, Nina is not as convincing.

Nonetheless, she lands the dual role, and performs much to expectation: a perfect White Swan, but an emotionless Black Swan. It’s only when Thomas (Vincent Cassel), the ballet director who does not shy away from sexuality or bold questions, shows his disappointment in her that Nina steps up her game.

Further fueling the fire is Lily (Mila Kunis), an equally beautiful dancer who personifies the Black Swan to a T. Early on, Nina looks at her with disgust, but as the film progresses, Lily tries to help Nina “relax” and show some rebellion. Through drugs, flirtation, and some very not-for-kids girl-on-girl loving, Nina begins to lose herself in the role of the Black Swan. But her goal (“to be perfect”) comes at a price: She is haunted by visions and scarred by scratches. The film’s beginning is a bit slow-moving, but this helps viewers get settled and feel comfortable in the world until, all of a sudden, they’re thrown around turns and dropped off ledges as they spiral downward along with Nina.

And suddenly comes opening night. In the first act as the White Swan, Nina dances with perfect fragility and sensitive vulnerability. However, when Nina returns to her dressing room to prepare for her transition to the evil character, all hell breaks loose.

Nina isn’t discomforted by flying solo. Her desire to be the main dancer often leaves her the subject of snide comments and spiteful glances. Further adding to her anti-fan base is Beth (portrayed by ex-sticky fingers Winona Ryder) as the former prima ballerina and face of the New York Ballet Company. Her subjectively older age has forced her to be replaced by younger and fresher dancers, though to the public, she is “choosing to retire.” Also complicating things is Nina’s mother (Barbara Hershey), an overly controlling former dancer who resorts to morose paintings when she’s not living vicariously through her daughter. Her excessive protection is initially comforting to delicate Nina, but as Nina turns into the Black Swan, this security eventually smothers her, and she rebels violently.

Director Darren Aronofsky takes us on a horrifying and thrilling journey, where the beginning is so far from the finale that you feel a bit exhausted along with the characters, but you also can’t help but thank him. There are genuine thrills in the movie as it warps and confuses the boundaries of reality and consciousness. It’s beautifully filmed (not surprising from the Requiem for a Dream director), and even though the film ends with a standing ovation, you aren’t quite sure if the applause is well deserved or incredibly tragic.