“Black Swan”
 
“Black Swan” is one of those unforgettable films that pack such emotional wallop that the viewer is both thrilled and exhausted.  Whether you happen to enjoy ballet or not.
Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, the ballet dancer with such a perfectionist streak that she literally has no other life.  She’s been laboring in obscurity with a New York ballet company, which has just decided to replace its featured star, Beth (Winona Ryder), who doesn’t take the news well at all.  She literally steps in front of a car, and is hospitalized with severe leg injuries, an ironic ending to an iconic career.  Nina is desperate to replace her as The Swan Queen, but there’s a complex dynamism to the role that eludes her:  The White Queen is all precision, innocence, and grace, and the Black Queen is full of guile, sensuality, and passion.  Can the same person successfully play both parts with equal skill and aplomb?  Thomas (Vincent Cassel), the Director, even after choosing Nina for her precise movements and incredible work ethic, continues to encourage, even harangue, her into “letting herself go” so she can fully assume both roles, as her self-conscious, uptight self and as her subconscious evil twin.
  Nina is so tightly-wound and driven that she has no real friends.  She lives with her controlling mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), whose own ballet career fell to earth when she got pregnant with Nina, so now her unfulfilled ambition is purely vicarious.  Nina literally rehearses until her toes bleed.  She nervously picks at her fingernails until they, too, are raw, and she has not only never known a lover, her emotional development is so stunted that she’s experienced no sexual exploration at all, not even with herself.  The manipulative Thomas tries playing with her libido, just to see if there’s a motivating motor there, and her primary rival in the company, Lily (Mila Kunis) alternately competes with her for Thomas’ cavalier attention and tries to seduce her into letting down her hair at a nightclub, and later, following cleverly applied dosages of inhibition removers. 
Now Nina doesn’t know what to think or believe.  Is Thomas her boss or her lover, or does he have no boundaries between the two?  Is Lily her competition or her paramour, and does she have no boundaries between the two?  Is her mother her loving protector or her prison guard, and does she even know the difference?  And as for Nina herself, her wanton obsessiveness teeters between unbridled compulsivity and imprisoned emotion, which begins to literally drive her mad.  She can no longer discern harsh reality from her fear of it.  She begins to imagine herself as both the White and the Black Swan, applied as both good and evil, as the two natures within her struggle for control, like a tragic Jekyll and Hyde in a tight bun and a leotard.
Ballet is ordinarily presented as sublime, refined, haute couture but passionless.  Director Darren Aronofsky’s raw-boned presentation reaches into the depths of both hero worship and self-loathing, and “plays” the audience for voyeurs and thrill-seekers as well as cultured despisers.  Self-love as a mandate; self-destructiveness as an art form?
Natalie Portman delivers a powerful, nuanced, memorable performance, one which will haunt the viewer long after the credits have rolled.  She deserves all those accolades she’s already received, and then some.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas