Self mutilation, perfectionism, madness, rivalry. The undercurrent of Black Swan, an intense psychological mind trip, can be summed up in words that convey what could be the moral of the story: maybe chill a little bit. But Darren Aronofsky’s beautifully directed film is really about Natalie Portman‘s visceral, stunning performance as a fragile ballerina whose obsessive focus is replacing displaced star dancer Beth (Winona Ryder), her obstacle inhabiting the role of the seductively dark black swan.
You live through her, breathe through her, walk through her, bleed through her and most of it is a tough watch despite Portman’s ridiculously perfect face. Of course, most chatter will center on a scene that’s more about pleasure than pain – a drug fueled maybe sex scene between Mila Kunis‘ Lily and Natalie Portman’s Nina.
The film asks and ascertains, what is the cost of perfection? The dancer’s world is the microcosm, a place all about the body, pain and performance. The film echoes what might be thought of as the more brutal sport in Aronofsky’s last hit The Wrestler, but the close ups of bloodied body parts and popping ligaments illustrates ballet only looks prettier.
The story gets confusing, muddled, difficult to follow a disturbing fall into insanity. But for all its darkness, it’s the beauty that reigns: Lily and Nina’s lithe dancer limbs and symmetrical faces, the Rodarte costumes are intricate and lovely and the music is grasping and intense.
In a palette of mostly black, white and red, it tells a story of transformation that echoes the beautiful horror of the fairy tale within: it’ll freak you out, but it’s cool to watch.
Black Swan hits theaters December 3.