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Review: Black Swan


Grace, endurance and a tolerance for pain, these are all three aspects of a talented ballet dancer. They are also characteristic of a wrestler, so it should be no surprise that Darren Aronofsky followed up his 2008 hit The Wrestler with Black Swan. Both films focus on the sacrifice asked of these professionals: self doubt, surreal expectations, and extraordinary committment, so much so that it begins to tear them apart. So when it was announced that Natalie Portman would be taking the lead I was hesitant. She had never pulled of anything like this before.

Natalie Portman, much like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, is playing a mirror of herself. She has never really acted in any darker material previous to Swan, but that only serves to make her performance here much more impressive. It is only when Nina's mother says, "where is my sweet little girl?" and Portman snaps back, "she's gone now!" that the implications are realized, Portman is done playing the girl next door.

The horror of Black Swan is that beneath the glittering lights, the showmanship, and the elegance lies sheer brutality. One shudders to think of the toll the punishment takes on the bodies of these women. Wrestling is a violent sport, but its physicality is worn on its sleeve. Ballet is deceptive in its methods.

So when Nina (Natalie Portman) finds herself up for the role of Swan Queen in Thomas's (Vincent Cassel) new production of Swan Lake, she needs to decide if her way of life is worth being passed over again and again. Technically, she is a perfect dancer, but she is timid and lacks the passion that playing both the White and Black Swans requires.

In really straining herself for the lead, Nina finds herself pushed to the brink by her obsessive mother and newfound competitor, Lily (Mila Kunis). Perfection requires everything, Darren Aronofsky's film announces, and sometimes giving it all your all is not enough.

The problem with Black Swan is that it never really strives to scratch below the surface. It is already known that excellence comes at a high cost. The Red Shoes displayed that artistic mentality quite brilliantly. It isn't the passion that drives Nina, but her own ego.

Another source of conflict is found in Portman's performance. Nina is clearly broken at the beginning, so her arc is not as pronounced. The ramblings of a crazed ballerina are only of interest if it is the result of a transformation. She snapped long before the opening credits.

**1/2 out of ****

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