Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) had the craziest dream last night where she was dancing the part of the White Swan in Swan Lake. It's a possibility that she could, because she is a ballerina with a New York City company, but as she gets older she is wondering whether she will ever get the chances to be the lead in anything much now. Her heroine is Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder), one time protege of the head of the company Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), but now she has probably danced her last as the word is that he is seeking a new star for his restaging of...
You guessed it, Swan Lake, and Nina wishes she could get to dance the lead. Except, and here's where it gets tricky for her, Leroy wants the same ballerina to perform the wicked Black Swan as the wholesome White Swan. He doesn't think that she has it in her to be as good in the evil role as she is in the nice role, but an encounter where she goes to request he considers her actually makes up his mind to give her a try - of course, she had to bite his lip when he forced her to kiss him, but this is the first chink in Nina's goody-two shoes armour. Basically, we are about to watch her personality be transformed - except we don't, really.
Portman won a host of awards for this, and it was one of the first films where her usual decency which it often seemed she could not help but project even in her morally shaded roles was used in an intriguing fashion. Director Darren Aronofsky was the man tapping that potential, one of his many melodramas that placed his protagonists in extreme situations to test their mettle, except while Pi would have been his science fiction effort in that vein, Black Swan was his horror. In spite of many viewers preferring to see this as a version of ballet classic The Red Shoes for the twenty-first century, and therefore far more respectable, that wasn't the way it played out.
The details familiar to shocker fans - such as the nightmare tone, the gory effects, the identity crisis theme common to many in the chiller genre - marked this out as the heir to something Dario Argento might have made if he were far more arty, but no less delirious in his imaginings, and others saw the influence of anime Perfect Blue, which also owed a debt to Argento. Certainly the manner in which the plot worked itself up into a hysteria lost in the music and the dance could have been all affectation, yet Aronofsky never allowed the material to get away from him, and neither did his cast, numbering among them Barbara Hershey as Nina's controling mother.
Nina is the kind of person whose immaturity means they need some kind of mentor in their lives, and she has never thrown off those shackles until now as the villainous side to her new role dominates. This aspect is embodied in bad girl ballerina Lily (Mila Kunis), who's not really all that conniving, or not as much as Nina is under the illusion she is, but she comes to identify Lily as the ideal Black Swan whereas she struggles with the role. In fact, the trouble with this film was that it was one of those stories to complacently assume that the evil side is far more interesting than the good, whereas a plot that set out a less moral Nina's attempts to be angelic might have been richer, especially in light of the way the ballet on stage ends. As Portman's skilled performance demonstrated, Nina's fragile mental state could just have easily been portrayed the other way as she doesn't change that much, so the feeling that this was all a bit silly and monotonous only grew, as committed as it was to its concept. Music by Clint Mansell.
American writer and director, whose low budget science fiction film Pi was much praised. He followed it with Requiem for a Dream, an equally intense drug addiction story, with the long-awaited but unsuccessful sci-fi epic The Fountain arriving in 2006. Downbeat drama The Wrestler was Oscar-nominated, suggesting he was fulfilling his early promise, and Natalie Portman won an Oscar for his ballet horror Black Swan. His eccentric Biblical epic Noah met with a mixed reaction to say the least, though that was nothing compared to mother!, his other Bible pic.