Black Swan Review
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In 2008, Darren Aronofsky directed Mickey Rourke’s spectacular comeback performance in the simple, stripped-down drama, The Wrestler. Aronofsky has said that his follow-up, Black Swan, is a kind of companion piece to The Wrestler—a similar story, told from a ballerina’s perspective. But if you head to the theater expecting the same kind of quiet drama from Black Swan, you’ll be in for one heck of a dark and disturbing surprise.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) has devoted her entire life to being a dancer. She has no social life, no boyfriend, no friends—just her overprotective mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), and her dreams of one day becoming a star.

As another season of the ballet begins, Nina hopes that her director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), will finally reward her hard work by featuring her more in the company’s upcoming production of Swan Lake. Although Nina fights for the starring role, she’s surprised when she actually gets it. And as Thomas expresses his growing disappointment with her cold, emotionless performance, she begins to fear that she’ll lose the part to Lily (Mila Kunis), a new dancer who’s everything she’s not.

The new star and her young rival form a strange friendship—but as Nina begins giving in to the dark side that her role requires, her whole life begins to spin wildly out of control.

Though it may tell a story of passion and desperation that’s similar to The Wrestler, Black Swan is significantly darker and more complex than its predecessor. What starts out as a seemingly simple drama about a hard-working dancer who’s trying to win the role of a lifetime quickly twists into an intense psychological exploration of obsession, drive, and competition.

The dark and twisted story becomes nothing short of a masterpiece in the hands of the film’s outstanding cast. Portman is phenomenal in her physically and psychologically demanding role as the obsessive ballerina—and she’s surrounded by a spectacular supporting cast, all playing darkly fascinating characters.

Barbara Hershey is perfectly eerie as Nina’s passive-aggressive mother. Erica encourages her daughter to be the very best, while subtly sabotaging her. She pushes her, she paints endless portraits of her, yet she clearly dreads the very thought that Nina might one day become a more successful dancer than she ever was herself.

Vincent Cassel, too, gives a solid performance as the harsh, critical director. But perhaps the film’s biggest surprise is Mila Kunis, who’s simply stunning as Nina’s new rival, Lily. You’ll never really know whether she’s trying to befriend Nina or stab her in the back—but, whatever the case, she’ll hold your attention. It’s no easy feat, considering that she’s usually in direct competition with Portman, but both characters were perfectly cast—and they play off each other remarkably well.

After a while, as the story progresses, you won’t know what’s real and what’s imagined—or what’s actually just Nina’s mind and body fighting her every move. And that’s what makes Black Swan such a mesmerizing drama. It’s is absolutely absorbing—a film that will hold you breathless until the last shocking moment. When it’s all over, you’ll be left feeling stunned, shaken, and maybe even physically ill—but it’s such a beautiful sickness that you’ll be eager to experience it all again.

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