Portman pulls off outstanding performance in The Black Swan
Portman plays Nina, a dedicated and sheltered ballerina who is competing for the leading role of the Swan Queen in a new production of Swan Lake. Her director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel) praises her skills and technique, but says that she doesn’t have the sensual edge needed to play both the innocent swan and her evil twin, the Black Swan. Always the over-achiever, Nina is determined to learn how to be sensual, but finds it extremely difficult. When new dancer Lilly (Mila Kunis) arrives on the scene, Nina is threatened by her carefree attitude and naturally sultry persona. Thomas fuels the fire when he constantly points out Lilly’s skills to the highly-strung leading lady. Soon, Nina’s ambition turns to obsession as her own life seems to throw her into the dichotomy between the sweet Swan Queen and the evil Black Swan.
The incredible contrast from the meek and child-like Nina at the beginning of the film to the warped woman we see at the end of the film makes it hard to believe that the performance came from just one actress. I know it sounds cliché, but Portman takes audiences on a journey through a dark, downward spiral into madness, keeping us captivated the entire time. We see the world through her eyes and, as fantasy starts to blur with reality, we too experience her fear, anger, confusion and frustration. Winona Ryder’s appearance as aging dancer Beth gives us our first glimpse into the darkness that lies ahead for Nina as things start to overwhelm her and the transition is gradual enough that the film can maintain a tense almost claustrophobic feeling from start to finish, tightening the grip ever so slightly with each scene.
Aronofsky has taken the graceful world of ballet and shown it to us with the harsh grittiness of his film The Wrestler. Nina endures injuries as she pushes herself too far and her mind plays tricks on her as her psyche begins to crumble. Nina’s delicate snow globe of a world becomes filled with disturbing images or fantasies as she tries to access the dark side of herself for the role. Much like The Wrestler, the most intriguing part of story is what happens when she’s not on stage.