Black Swan is a fiercely exhilarating film, played to violent perfection by director Darren Aronofsky and his star Natalie Portman, who puts in a spellbinding performance as a disturbed ballerina descending into madness.
Portman plays Nina Sayers, a highly-strung ballerina who, after years of obsessive pushing from her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), finally wins the dual leads of white and black swan in her ballet company’s new production of Swan Lake.
For those not in the know, the tragic ballet tells of a princess cursed to take the form of a white swan, who kills herself when her prince and true love – the only one who can break the spell – falls for a seductive but evil black swan instead.
Nina’s innocence makes her a perfect white swan, but she lacks the dark sensuality demanded by artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) – until she embarks on a twisted friendship with bewitching rival (Mila Kunis), who seems to embody everything the black swan should be.
Above all, Portman’s incredible dedication to the role and the dazzling and disturbing performance she puts in is astounding, both in the dancing sequences throughout the film and those portraying Nina’s growing split personality.
Whilst American Ballet Theatre dancer Sarah Lane acted as her body double, Portman performs much of the dancing herself and trained with a ballet instructor eight hours a day, every day for a year, before filming even began, to attain the perfection Nina herself is obsessed with achieving.
Such demand for dedication serves director Darren Aronofsky well, who pulls no punches, pushing a tightly-written screenplay into so few locations as to create palpable claustrophobia in his audience, reflecting the world in which Nina is trapped.
The use of mirrors in almost every scene underlines the reflective nature of the film, its plot mirroring that of Swan Lake, as Nina and Lily and within that, the two sides of Nina’s split personality, fight for dominance.
Tchaikovsky’s original score to Swan Lake has been beaten up by composer Clint Mansell to create an edgy soundtrack which looms under every scene in the film and foreshadows Nina’s vicious circle of innocence and violence. Sadly, there is no Oscar for best adapted soundtrack.
A quick mention should also go to a magnificent visual effects shot which appears during the climax of the film, meshing dancer with swan, which actually made the cinema audience around me gasp at its sheer beauty. Look FX should be bloody proud of themselves and it would seem from their [obviously spoilerish] showreel that they rightly are.
In summary, like Portman’s Nina, Black Swan itself is a beautiful monster, technically perfect yet outlandishly out of control – and endlessly watchable. Five stars.