Ballet is all about balance. You must be sure-footed. Darren Aronofsky makes sure his audience is the opposite, throwing us off balance and out of our comfort zone at every opportunity. The result is a stunning, satisfying and unexpectedly funny film.
TEENY SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW
Natalie Portman is Nina Sayers; a ballerina with the determination to be 'perfect'. Portman apparently trained for 10 months for this role and it shows. She has always been graceful and fragile-looking but now she looks as though she could snap at any moment. Every bone protrudes, every muscle is lean. Right or wrong, this is what dancers go through and the commitment she has shown to get there really shouldn't be underestimated. She should win the Oscar. It'd be a crime if she didn't. Her performance is the thing which grounds Black Swan. It gives it it's realism. It stops it from leaping, head first, over the top of plausible.
So Nina is cast in Swan Lake, playing the White Swan Odette and the Black Swan Odile. She's great at dancing Odette cos she's all boring and sexless but Odile is more of a challenge... Enter Vincent Cassell!
He's the slimy French choreographer and he's brilliant. Smarmy and calculated. Nina falls for every line.
Barbara Hershey plays Nina's mother and this relationship is the most interesting in the film. Hershey switches brilliantly between Erica's attempts to be pally; all sorority girl sharing and hair brushing; and an ultra-controlling matriarch.
Nina's real-life opposite is Lily, a new dancer from (gasp) California! She is everything Nina isn't; relaxed, sexy and independent. An uneasy friendship is formed, with the undercurrent of competition never too far away. Mila Kunis seems to relish this role and she can do sexy with her eyes closed. Lily is the catalyst for Nina finally losing her cool. Kunis is, on the face of it, the opposite of Portman but they are facially at least, similar enough for us to be freaked out now and then!
As the film progresses Aronofsky really starts to have fun. Throwing the audience completley off balance with Cronenberg-esque body horror to make you (well me anyway) squirm in your seats. The omnipresent mirrors become more and more integral to Nina's crumbling psychosis and are the basis of some great shocks. And how do you not see the cameramen?! And a scene involving Winona Ryder (who's pretty good) will have you wondering if you've wandered into an actual horror film.
Sound is used to great effect and the realism of the film stock and camera work really offsets the seeming unreality of the events of the final act. The dance scenes are excellent. Filmed close to show the agony and the effort rather than the grace and elegance of the finished product.
And what of the ending? I really can't tell you about it cos it's a pretty massive spoiler which is a shame cos I had some good clever words lined up but join me in comments and we'll argue it out!
I can't recommend Black Swan highly enough. It won't be everyone's cup of tea and I'm not sure I found it totally satisfying but it's the most exciting and thrilling films I've seen in a while. The performances really do make it.
Also... aren't these posters gorgeous? The designers hadn't seen the film when they made them but they've really captured the tone I think. I'd happily hang all of them in my house.