Opening 20 Jan 2011
Writing credits: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J. McLaughlin
Principal actors: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
In the ballet Swan Lake, the prima ballerina’s challenge is to dance the innocent, graceful White Swan as well as the beguiling, sensual Black Swan. When Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), the artistic director of the New York City ballet, announces this will be the new season’s premiere and that current prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) is retiring, with every fiber of her being Nina (Natalie Portman) wants this role. Excitedly Nina tells mom Erica (Barbara Hershey), who cautions, “You’re working yourself too hard …maybe you’ll be a big Swan, either way you’ll shine.” Erica encourages and mollycoddles Nina, and through vicarious suffocates her.
Short-listed and coveting the position, Nina asks Thomas for the part; he has said if it were just the White Swan role it would be hers, but as the Black Swan, “…perfection is not just about control, it’s about losing yourself.” He kisses, she bites, and beyond her wildest dreams she gets the part. Simultaneously the company gets a new ballerina: carefree pertinacious San Franciscan Lilly (Mila Kunis). Nina feels her gaze, watches Lilly dance, and sees Thomas take notice: an adversary, a perverse friendship, and inner mayhem struggle with Nina’s toehold on achievement – perfection. “I am perfect. It was perfect,” whispers the ‘little princess’.
What piqued my curiosity to see this psychological thriller is that Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) is the director. The illusionism he creates with the aid of slight-of-hand camera work from Matthew Libatique and Andrew Weisblum’s editing leave us gasping: ‘was that…?’ and ‘did I just see…?’ or ‘who…?’. Breathtaking acting, in concert with superb behind the scenes talent and computer generated effects and Clint Mansell’s music, amplify the tension that accentuates the pressure we all feel. If you leave not quite sure that you saw what you saw, see it again! And please, keep the story details and the ending to yourself. Not often does a film persuade inquisitiveness. (Marinell Haegelin)