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Portman Shines as “Black Swan”

Like a lot of little girls, I spent a great deal of my childhood in a tutu leaping and twirling around my house. And while I thought I was full of ease and grace, in reality I was knock things down and tripping over my two left feet.

Luckily, Natalie Portman didn’t have this problem in Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, “Black Swan.”

Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a dancer for the New York City Ballet, who’s up for the starring role in the company’s production of Swan Lake. Nina is a perfectionist and meticulous about dance, which her director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel) says makes her ideal for the white swan but she lacks the passion and sensuality needed to portray the white swan’s evil twin, the black swan.

Thomas casts Nina as the star anyway and decides to make newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) her understudy. Throughout rehearsals Nina has trouble capturing the darker persona and becomes more and more paranoid that Lily is trying to take over the role.

Nina falls into a self-destructive spiral and her overprotective mother (Barbara Hershey) is convinced the role is too much for her. But Nina is determined to be the perfect black swan no matter what it takes.

“Black Swan” is dark, creepy, and totally engrossing. Most of this is due to the casting of Natalie Portman and her performance as Nina Sayers.

Portman has proven herself to be a strong actress. She can lead the people of the planet Naboo or deliver a curse-laden rap on “SNL” and you believe her. She’s made the transition from precocious child actor to full-blown movie star without becoming tabloid fodder; which has earned her the nickname, “Anti-Lohan,” by Gary Susman of moviefone.com.

Here, she’s perfectly cast as Nina, a sweet and innocent young women who is trapped in a state of perpetual adolescence by her overbearing  mother. We first meet Nina at home, in a very pink bedroom, surrounded by stuffed animals, that you’d swear belonged to a five-year-old.

The film follows her struggle to crossover into adulthood and tap into her inner sexuality needed to be the seductive black swan. Through Nina, the film touches on themes of identity, duality, and the cost of perfection.

The story does a good job of playing with the audiences emotions to keep us guessing about what is really going on. Is Lily really stalking Nina? Or is Nina just a bonkers ballerina? Is a sex scene between Nina and Lily really necessary? And seriously, Nina is totally loony tunes, right? Right?

The final act, or swan song I suppose, pulls the audience into Nina’s head trip. It’s a fast-paced blur of tulle, feathers, and Portman doppelgangers juxtaposed against Tchaikovsky’s romantic “Swan Lake” score. Everything builds up to the final moment where Nina achieves perfection, and falls victim to the ticking time-bomb of her psychosis that’s been threatening to go off throughout the entire film.

Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream,” “The Wrestler“) isn’t afraid to showcase the ugly side of human nature. Light and dark, good and evil, he likes to play with the inner struggle within everyone  in all of his movies. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times explains, “he [Aronofsky] has built a small, vivid catalog by exploring human extremes with wildly uneven degrees of visual wow, sensitivity and intelligence.”

Dargis goes on to describe “Black Swan” as, “visceral and real even while it’s one delirious, phantasmagoric freakout.”

If you’re looking for a dark and gritty thriller then “Black Swan” is for you. It has excellent performances, beautiful visual effects, and a script full of mind-bending twists, turns, and pirouettes. And that little girl, who use to live in her tutu and wreak havoc around the house, is very happy her mother convinced her her destiny was not to be a prima ballerina.

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  1. Pingback: The Commuter: Vol. 42 « Art in the Rye Design - June 18, 2011

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