Natalie Portman Is Impressive in a Lurid, Florid Psychodrama
An Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, Black Swan (2010) stars Natalie Portman in a bravura performance that earned her an Oscar for Best Actress. The movie also received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Director (Darren Aronofsky).
Black Swan is a dazzling, but harrowing psychological thriller. The movie has elements of masochistic horror, and the viewer spends most of the film feeling uncomfortable.
Set in the world of a professional ballet company whose home is New York's Lincoln Center, the film's protagonist is Nina Sayers (Portman). Obsessed with achieving perfection as a ballerina, she gets her shot at stardom in dancing the lead in a production of Swan Lake. But the uptight Nina has led a sheltered life, and it's dubious as to whether she's capable of capturing her character's seductive dark side. In preparing for the role, she explores previously suppressed feelings, leading to mental instability and difficulty in distinguishing reality from illusion.
In addition to Portman's star turn, Black Swan has memorable supporting actors as well: Vincent Cassel as the svengali-like artistic director of the ballet company, Barbara Hershey as Nina's controlling mother and Mila Kunis as the free-spirited ballerina who will dance the Swan Queen if Nina falters.
Tchaikovsky's music is heard frequently throughout the film, and the Swan Lake ballet is mirrored in the movie's characters.
The Black Swan DVD contains only one extra, a serviceable 49-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that is reasonably informative and sometimes interesting.
If you don't feel like sitting through the whole documentary, you can use the menu to jump to Part III. This is partly about the use of makeup and prosthetics in horror scenes, but it's also about digital effects, particularly in transforming Nina into the Black Swan. In this part of the documentary you'll get to see Natalie Portman's dance double, Sarah Lane. (Lane, a ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre, caused a kerfuffle by claiming that nearly all full-body shots of Nina dancing are of her rather than of Portman.)
If you're really into Black Swan, it's worthwhile to watch Parts I and II of the documentary as well. You'll hear from director Darren Aronofsky, who says that the inspiration for the film came when he read Dostoevsky's novella "The Double" and then saw Swan Lake, realizing that one dancer performs the dual roles of the White Swan and the Black Swan. In passing, Aronofsky mentions that he hired choreographer Benjamin Millepied, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. (Millepied appears in the film as the dancer performing the role of the Prince in Swan Lake. He and Portman got into a romantic relationship, and at the time she received her Academy Award, she was pregnant.)
DVD Release Date: March 29, 2011
Total Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content, Disturbing Violent Images, Language and Some Drug Use