And you thought ballet was a tough career

Black Swan’: a ballet/​horror film (1st review)

2 minute read
Portman: Anorexic and anxious, and what else is new?
Portman: Anorexic and anxious, and what else is new?
The much heralded and hyped Black Swan has arrived just in time for the holidays. In case you've been on another planet for the past few months, the plot revolves around Nina (Natalie Portman), a young ballet dancer who hopes to star in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. The problem, as the artistic director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), drives home, is that Nina is too rigid and virginal to play the black swan role.

If you're expecting a Christmas confection with a happy ending, you'll be surprised, and not pleasantly. Darren Aronofsky's horror flick is vulgar, violent and bitter. The director seems to delight in scenes of self-mutilation, which are so plentiful that they totally overshadow the film's beautiful dance sequences.

Nothing is subtle in this film, including the characters. Portman's Nina is anorexic and anxious, which makes perfect sense since her mother (Barbara Hershey) is an overpowering, possessive shrew. Hershey is the stock stage mother who pushes her daughter to become the prima ballerina that she herself never was. And that's because (surprise!) she gave it all up to give birth to Nina.

The dancers in the company include Winona Ryder as Beth, who has been used up and thrown out by Simon Legree— I mean Cassel. Winona gets the actress's dream role of portraying a woman driven to a suicidal act. Unfortunately for her and the audience, she survives to star in one of the film's most gruesome scenes, of which there are many. Lily (Mila Kunis) is cast as yet another stock backstage character, Nina's two-faced friend.

The audience is never certain whether Nina imagines some of the horrors visited upon her or if they actually happen. Does Lily drop acid in Nina's drink after dragging her to a bar, turning her into a schizophrenic? Which will disintegrate faster: Nina's personality, or the film itself?

Philadelphia's own Pennsylvania Ballet is featured in this heavy-handed and overwrought embarrassment. You've heard of artists who give up their souls for fame and fortune. But for Darren Aronofsky?♦

To read another review by Janet Anderson, click here.
To read another review by Robert Zaller, click here.

What, When, Where

Black Swan. A film directed by Darren Aronofsky. For theaters and times in greater Philadelphia, click here.

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