“Black Swan” a Poignant, Gritty Film

Shane Bond

Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” grabs you by the hair and drags you through hell in the most twisted, psychologically disturbing movie about ballet yet. It also just so happens to be one of the best films of the year, even if it is dark, menacing and depressing.

Nina, played by Natalie Portman, is a frigid, naïve woman suffocated by her obsessive former-ballerina mother. Ballet is Nina’s life and her greatest dream is to be the Swan Queen in Swan Lake for the ballet company she dances for in the coming up season.

Her mother, played by Barbara Hershey, shields her daughter to protect her from the same mistakes she made in her life. In reality, though, she wants Nina to stay her precious little girl for as long as she can. As a result, Nina, a full grown woman, behaves more like a 14-year-old girl, uncertain of how the world works.

The ballet company is opening the season again with Swan Lake. The ballet is a story about the White Swan, who falls in love with a prince, but her evil twin sister, the Black Swan, steals the prince away. Stricken with grief, the White Swan kills herself.

It is a ballet that has been done to death, but this new season, Thomas Leroy (played by Vincent Cassel) the ballet instructor, adds a twist. This year, there is not just one White Swan and one Black Swan, but instead a single dancer must embody both. Nina is selected as a result.

Thomas knows she fits the White Swan perfectly because her personality reflects innocence, but Thomas needs to see her Black Swan.

Mila Kunis plays Lily, a woman from San Francisco who is free-spirited, parties, drinks, experiments with drugs and enjoys sex. She is the opposite in every way of Nina and is her doppelganger, her twin and fellow ballerina in the company. As the movie progresses, Nina sees herself in Lily and with it, the free spirit she must embrace if she hopes to master her role on stage. Nina also sees her as competition and a threat to her dream role as the Swan Queen.

Psychologically, the role drives her to the edge. Where Lily can live with moderation, Nina’s Black Swan cannot.

“Black Swan” is a companion piece to Aronofsky’s previous work, “The Wrestler.” He brings the same devoted attention to the hardships of the dancer as he did for the professional wrestler.

“Black Swan” is about the dangerous depths of passion and its weary hold over our poor heroine, Nina.

The filming is gritty work, bringing a cold feel to the walls of the company’s studio and loneliness to Nina’s world. She doesn’t have a real friend in the world and the only one who tries to reach out is her competition, Lily. Nina can’t quite cope with that, though, because, after all, she is her competition.

Some shots are reminiscent of “The Wrestler’s” own style-therefore, it isn’t breaking new ground. But Aronofsky knows how to bring the right dark mood out of his movies. “Black Swan” plays just like his previous work, “Requiem for a Dream”-no settling for the light hearted, Aronofsky likes to drive his films off a cliff into the extreme.

Her cast offers strong support, but “Black Swan” is carried on the back of Portman, who undoubtedly will be nominated for an Academy Award.

Black Swan is dark, gritty and psychologically weary. It can even be called depressing, but its fabulous lead, Natalie Portman, makes it worthy seeing. It’s a dark film meant for adults, and anyone who is a fan of Aronofsky’s early work like “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream” will find it right up their alley. “Black Swan” ends the 2010 film year with a bang, so see it.