The first two words that exited my mind after I saw this film were disturbingly beautiful. Natalie Portman makes another go at playing a disturbed character, dancer Nina Sayers. With the director of a New York City ballet company trying to take another angle of the Swan Lake story, Sayers finds herself trying for perfection while the director wants her to let go. As she starts to release control, her anxiety catches up to her, causing her to start to lose her grip reality. Is her friendship with new dancer, Lily, just an illusion? How is she getting injured? Is someone out to sabotage her?
Starring: Natalie Portman (Nina Sayers), Mila Kunis (Lily), Vincent Cassel (Thomas Leroy), Barbara Hershey (Erica Sayers), Winona Ryder (Beth Macintyre), Benjamin Millepied (David)
Portman has played damaged characters in the past, but this one takes the mental health element to the next level. She portrays a transformation the seems to speed up as she continues to lose control on her surroundings. She delivers a performance that makes the viewer feel her pain and struggle with their concept of reality at the same time. Mila Kunis plays her first truly serious role and combines a playful innocence with suspicious trickery. While her character’s actual intentions seem more casual than devious, she captures the psychotic episodes of Portman fairly well. Vincent Cassel’s portrayal as the director serves as a conduit of Portman’s varying control.
The story is basically Swan Lake but with a significant twist. Sayers starts the movie as the beautiful white swan but becomes the black swan with the loss of control, similar to the intentions of director Thomas Leroy. While you may believe you know what is happening, there is always a hint of mystery that unsettles your notion of control (just like Sayers). Some of the mysterious injuries can be a little difficult to watch, but you always have doubt over whether she is inflicting them herself or if it is her mother, Lily or Leroy. The transformation itself is highly engrossing and confusing at the same time.
When the movie ended, I realized that I got lost in the story. Watching Portman portray the transformation from the white swan to the black swan showed the change from control to insanity. This was definitely worthy of the best picture nod.
Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5