Gothica does ballet meets Fatal Attraction on ecstasy: The motion picture Black Swan, which did major P.R. and advertisement long before it was finally released the first week of December 2010, served as the closing film this year for the AFI festival. Hailed for its makeup and costume design, we thought it would be playing at the theater nearest the biggest fashion school in Los Angeles, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise. It wasn’t, despite an ad near the Nokia Theatre for it right near FIDM, so we headed to Hollywood instead, to the sold out show in its 6th night.
Written by Mark Heyman and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Pie, Requiem For A Dream, The Wrestler), and starring Academy Award nominee Natalie Portman as Nina, Mila Kunis (The Book of Eli, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) as Lily, 80’s legend Winona Ryder (Heathers, Dracula, Beetlejuice), as Beth MacIntyre, Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy, Barbara Hershey as Erica, Kristina Anapau as Galina, Toby Hemingway as Tom, Sebastian Stan and Janet Montgomery as Madeline, Black Swan is, like ‘Nine,’ long on style, and yearning in its search for substance.
Black Swan tells the story of Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, as those in her profession, is completely consumed by dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who fanatically supports her daughter’s professional ambition and whose fixation with her daughter, rivals Norman Bates’ with his mother in Psycho. When the opportunistic artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for Swan Lake, the opening production of their new season, Nina is the first choice after he forces a kiss on her and she bites his lip.
But Nina has fierce competition, a rising new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), who further impresses Leroy in more ways than one and gets sheltered Nina to rebel against her mother; stay out late, mess around, and drop ecstacy. Layered with breathy ambience, and a score by sound master Clint Mansell (formerly of Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails’ nothing records), Black Swan keeps the pace of suspenseful sensuality, with some sudden jolts worthy of the best horror film.
Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly, while Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her darker side with a reckless abandon that threatens to destroy her.
Is Nina a schizophrenic ballerina tortured by hallucinations? Or merely a creative daydreamer, and closeted lesbian with a twisted, abusive mother? These things, and many more, are not answered. Despite its missing pieces, and disturbing portrayals (a pervert on the subway, a slimy instructor not one woman stands up to, and not one redeemable character or healthy developed relationship), Black Swan is, with all its twisted turns and missing explanations, a film worth seeing, at least for the brilliance of Natalie Portman, who shines here, showing more range and talent than ever. For her presence alone, and fine acting by the rest of this very talented cast, Black Swan makes its tawdry target stick.