Portman's Perfect Performance
Black Swan tells the story of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), an all-too-perfect, sheltered, virgin ballerina who gets cast as the Swan Queen in a new re-imagining of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The ballet director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), notorious for sleeping with his prima ballerinas, has a new vision that entails the same dancer playing the roles of both Princess Odette (White Swan) and her evil twin, Odile (Black Swan). Although he has no doubt Nina possesses the flawless technique to pull off the purity of Odette, he harbors serious reservations about her ability to lose herself in the state of seductive abandon required of Odile. His advice? Get intimately in touch with herself, which she does -- in one of the film’s most talked-about scenes.
Things seem to be going well until a ballerina from the west coast joins the company. Lily (Mila Kunis) is everything Nina is not: fun, spontaneous, dark, naturally seductive, and hypersexual. In short, she was born to play the role of Odile; she even has black feathers tattooed on her scapulae. Despite Lily’s efforts to befriend her, Nina inherently mistrusts the newcomer, fearful that she’s trying to abscond with her role. Will Nina be able to keep her jealousy in check long enough to perfect her performance? Will she be able to delve into the darkness of Odile? And if so, will she ever resurface?
Directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain) and nominated for five Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture, Black Swan, as a production, deserves its accolades. Natalie Portman, however, flat-out astonishes by delivering a tour-de-force performance, one that will resonate in the minds of viewers for years. Despite her tender age of only twenty-nine, one can’t help wondering if she isn’t peaking here with this particular role. Could this be the Virginia Woolf of her career? She’s saccharine and innocent in one scene yet manipulative and twisted in another. Equally prone to subtly self-aggrandizing and masochistically self-mutilating. Tormented and the tormentor, she’s everything you can ask of an actress. At the conclusion of the movie, her character describes her performance in Swan Lake as “perfect.” Oscar may very well agree.
The only flaw in Black Swan involves its tendency to pirouette a tad out of control at times. As Nina loses herself in the role of the Black Swan, as she sinks increasingly deeper into the abyss, she begins to lose her mind. Lines start to blur: reality and dream, art and life, self and other, etc. Viewers are inundated with Nina’s kaleidoscopic dreamscapes and mentally dysfunctional ventures into the void. Although this serves its purpose, the film also comes across as a sort of psychological profile of a paranoid schizophrenic ballerina who snaps beneath the weight of her own perfection. It’s the equivalent of watching a movie through the reflection of a shattered mirror.
(Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures and rated "R" for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use.)