Black Swan is what you might call a "psychological thriller," and triumphantly earns its R rating. Judging by the number of times Brooke and I winced, clinched our fists, and gave one another the wide-eyed I-can't-believe-we-made-it-through-that-scene look while sitting in the theater, its filmmakers should feel very successful. In fact, Black Swan should rightly be considered a horror movie. When it was over, we were both glad it was a Saturday, because that meant we only had to wait a few hours before rushing to church and singing songs about much, much happier things.
Natalie Portman stars as Nina, a young dancer in a prestigous New York City ballet company. She desires to be "perfect", and desires to land the lead role in a groundbreaking version of Swan Lake in the upcoming season. Of course, there is pressure on her--from her mother, with whom she lives, and from her director and the other dancers. But mostly the pressure comes from within herself. She is self-driven to excellence and, evidently, that drive increasingly drives her mad.
Her mother seems crazy: overbearing, unstable. Her director seems crazy, too: the stereotypical obsessive type who likes to get into bed with his much-younger dancers. And even some of the other dancers seem crazy, like newcomer Lily, who befriends Nina only to take her out for a night of raving and drinking and drugs on the evening before the ballet's opening performance. But darkness and bewilderment increasingly overcome Nina herself, the others notwithstanding. As she strives harder and harder to learn how to be the ballet's "black swan" character (evil and cunning) in addition to the more natural "white swan" (innocent and lovely), Nina spirals into a lost and sickening world of hallucination and fear. And she takes us, the viewers, with her.
The director, Darren Aronofsky, last wowed filmgoers with The Wrestler. He equals that effort here.
When it's over, you're just not sure what to believe. What was real, and what was imagined? Who was to blame? We'd like to think that many of Nina's darker pitfalls were mere nightmares or hallucinations. But that might just be wishful thinking.
We can't ignore the morally offensive nature of about half the scenes in this film. They're full of distorted sex, drug use, profanity, and physical pain and mutilation. But as horror films go, those ingredients are standard fare. What's sets Black Swan apart from its trashier counterparts is its artful style and unpredictability. That said, I don't think we ever want to see it again. Once was enough!