While technically Black Swan is a horror film, it’s more of the psychological sort from the late ’60s than what we’re used to. More about the hallucinations than the blood, the film is set in the posh milieu of the ballet world. Lots of ballet. But this being from the director of Requiem for a Dream, you still know that it’s not gonna be a pleasant ride.
The maestro of an elite ballet company (Vincent Cassel) becomes bored with the house diva (Winona Ryder in a brutal cameo) and tosses her aside. Captured fresh in his deerlight is Nina (Natalie Portman). This is odd, because while Nina is a skilled enough dancer to have been retained in the company, she is psychologically fragile. But she can speak with people. Sort of. Maybe he sees something in her that no one else does, as he casts her in the dual role of Swan Queen in the big production of Swan Lake. Which would be a big deal for any aspiring ballet dancer, let alone one as tightly wound as Nina.
What he doesn’t see is that Nina isn’t just wound tightly; she’s one seriously repressed figurine of neurosis. The ascendancy of a rival (Mila Kunis) doesn’t help. And as the maestro relentlessly drives her to open up to the duality of the role, well … she does. There’s really no surprise as to where this is going or how it all works out, of course. And whether the grueling process of Nina cracking out of her shell is ultimately a good thing or a bad thing depends on how deeply your nihilism runs.
While deadly earnest and acted at 100 percent, Black Swan still becomes a little too goofy for its own good, as the melodrama drowns out the ambiguity and the narrative becomes so unreliable that moments that should carry more impact are diminished. But with director Darren Aronovsky’s eye and composer Clint Mansell’s ear, it’s at least a compelling sensorial experience.