For those last minute Lansing shoppers looking for the perfect gift for their movie-loving friend or loved one, why not buy them a potential piece of motion picture history; a ticket to see Natalie Portman’s sure Oscar-winning performance in Darren Aranofsky’s new psychological thriller, “Black Swan.”
Portman portrays Nina Sayers, a gifted, yet naïve, perfectionist working with a dance company at the New York Lincoln Center. Nina still lives with her mother (Barbara Hershey) a former dancer herself, in a modest flat where it becomes apparent that Mother Sayers is living through her daughter. Nina has buried every living minute into her craft, forgoing food (she’s bulimic) and any form of a love life in the hope of furthering her dance career. Things change suddenly look up for the young dancer when the company’s womanizing director, Thomas (Vince Cassel), casts off his lover (who also happens to be the current prima ballerina) and promotes Nina into the starring role. Unfortunately, the virginal ballerina is not prepared for the advances of the insatiable Thomas who puts great stock in Nina finding her sexual being to portray the dark side of the black swan in her dual role in Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” Accepting the challenge, Nina immerses herself and begins to succeed until Lily (Mila Kunis), an extroverted new dancer clearly aware of her own sexuality, arrives and Thomas immediately places her as Nina’s understudy. The stress of trying to compete with Lily’s sensual confidence combined with the pressures of her sudden thrust into the limelight is too much for Nina as the obsessive ballerina’s years of sexual repression and outlandish sacrifice for her craft begin to unravel her grasp of reality.
Be aware, “Black Swan” is a dark film and certainly deserves its “R” rating for sexuality and violence. Still, Aronofsky skillfully takes us into the obsessive and hyper-competitive world of professional ballet that leads to Nina’s breakdown. He has crafted a unique masterpiece, pushing the limits of the “psychological thriller” genre with a completely classical score and breathtaking ballet sequences taken from Nina’s point of view on the stage. Aronofsky’s art direction, choreography and, most importantly, his casting are near flawless. In particular, after putting in ten months of preparation for her role, Portman gives the most powerful performance of her career – one that should get the undivided attention of the Motion Picture Academy judges for her efforts.