Black Swan Movie Review

Even if it may seem a stretch to call Black Swan a workplace horror spree, let’s face it, these economic hard times seem to have impacted on an entire array of movie genres. From the media drudge comedy, Morning Glory to that pink slip doomsday drama, The Company Men. And yes, Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky’s other previous career move downer, The Wrestler.

And likewise a noirish psychological thriller to some extent about poultry, though hitting theaters just the other side of Thanksgiving so as not to rain on your holiday, Black Swan is a both incessantly gloomy and lushly conceived yet brutal take on workaholic tendencies as an occupational hazard that can possibly kill you. If not the competition waiting in the wings to replace you and driving you insane, even if only imagined.

Natalie Portman, not exactly going postal, masochistically implodes and disintegrates frame by frame as pathological perfectionist Nina Sayers, a compulsively driven dancer with the New York City Ballet. Long relegated to the sidelines, Nina is suddenly called upon to replace the star ballerina of the company (Winona Ryder) who is deemed over the hill, for a new production being mounted of Swan Lake.

But there may be little cause for celebration just yet if ever, as Nina finds herself caught between her resentful predecessor, a new ambitious dancer (Mila Kunis) who may be making flirty moves on her and secretly vying for the position, and Nina’s pushy stage mom (Barbara Hershey) who obsessively projects on to her daughter her own thwarted youthful ambitions in ballet. And perhaps most menacingly, the company’s artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), persistently taunting her that she’s fine as the virginal innocent White Swan, but lacks the devilishly erotic passion of the Black Swan which she’s required to also portray. And that the necessary sensuality to pull off the latter, can only be sufficiently attained by leaping off the stage and into bed with him.

Now you may have never attempted to dance a pirouette in your life, but Aronofsky’s gift for a heightened, much too close for comfort sense of physical and emotional terror will grab you by the throat and keep you on your toes so to speak, every step of the way. On the other hand, Portman’s frigid, snobby ice queen, unlike say Rourke’s earthy everyman wrestler, comes off more as a male figment of the imagination (actually conceived, written and directed by four men) when conjuring repulsive female workplace ambition in the extreme. Not to mention that simply designating Nina as the white swan and alternately assigning the wild child competition played by Kunis as the daring feathered femme fatale in dark tutu, would have nicely resolved all pressing matters at hand.

So is Nina’s descent into madness as the lines between herself and her alternate swan identities blur, exacerbated by the excruciating insecurity of overwhelming vocational pressures, the lecherous older men she passively endures as they invade her private space – including an elderly subway predator, her chronic sexual repression, or even denial of her inner lesbian? Only this enigmatic, empty vessel raving musical mannequin would seem to know for sure.

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Rated R

3 stars

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.