“Perfection is not just about control,” says ballet artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassell) to prima ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman), “It’s about letting go, as well.” Nina will open the next season in “Swan Lake,” dancing both the innocent White Swan and her seductive twin, the Black Swan. Nina is sexually innocent, dancing the White Swan to perfection, but must discover her sexuality to dance the Black Swan convincingly. Other characters figure in Nina’s search — her domineering mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), rival dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) and retiring prima ballerina Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder).
Will Nina’s search drive her fragile ego over the edge? Where does reality end and dreams begin? Where does single-minded devotion to perfection lead? See “Black Swan,” a shivery adult pychosexual thriller, to find out.
Natalie Portman leads a strong cast in this compelling backstage drama. Portman is Nina, whose obsessive quest for perfection is also her tragic flaw. She is superb in the role, physically right (including her dancing) and emotionally convincing, even when Nina goes over the top. Vincent Cassell, Barbara Hershey and Mila Kunis are also excellent. Cassell is Thomas, the ballet company’s autocratic impresario. He’s sexually demanding and skillful at playing mind games with his dancers. Barbara Hershey is scary as Nina’s suffocating mother Erica. A frustrated dancer, she lives her life through Nina, encouraging in Nina a child-like innocence and dependence. Tapped to be the Swan Queen, Nina says, “He picked me, mommy.” Mila Kunis is rival dancer Lily, a free spirit whose open sexuality both attracts and repels Nina.
Others in the cast include Winona Ryder as Beth Macintyre, who can’t handle her forced retirement from the company, and Benjamin Millepied as David, who dances the Prince in “Swan Lake.”
“Black Swan” is smart psychosexual thriller and backstage drama in which dancers’ lives and ballet roles merge. Darren Arnofsky directs from an excellent script by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin. Gorgeous cinematography by Matthew Libatique and original music by Clint Mansell (ballet score by Tchaikovsky). End credits connect backstage and front-stage roles: Nina/White Swan, Lily/Black Swan, Thomas/Prince, Erica/Queen, and Beth/Dying Swan. Following these parallels is not crucial, but will add to your film-going pleasures.
Shivery “Black Swan,”
Talk about it after —
What’s real and what is not.