With Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s follow-up to his award-worthy, gritty but inspiring take on the world of athletic entertainment in The Wrestler (2008), he has concocted a powerful mixture of the in-depth and observant (ala’ that film) and the dark and disturbing (which marked his beloved debut efforts Pi and Requiem for a Dream). Natalie Portman hypnotizes as Nina Sayers, a freakishly obsessive perfectionist in a New York City ballet company who aspires to be cast as both the Swan Queen, as well as her dark doppelganger the Black Swan in a “reimagined” version of the classic Swan Lake. Faced with the devastating and graceless exit of her beloved predecessor (Winona Ryder, great in just a few scenes), sexually pursued by her lascivious ballet director (Vincent Cassel, appropriately smarmy and perverse) and brutally psychologically, emotionally and physically stifled by her similarly obsessive mother (Barbara Hershey, giving a rare but welcome and memorable performance), Nina’s problems go from bad to worse with the arrival of the young alternate/understudy Lily (Mila Kunis), who may be more threatening than she even first appears to be. The horror is aided and abetted by Matthew Libatique, whose grainy 16mm (occasionally mixed with opposite side of the spectrum HD Digital) camera darts, swoops, jostles along behind and sometimes simply watches as we at first observe Nina and then are, basically unwittingly, plunged deep inside her troubled mind. Aronofsky (who almost directed The Fighter instead) is well within his element, starting at about the pitch of a nightmare in the opening shots and escalating for virtually two hours to a horrific shriek of psychological collapse and emotional despair. So how much of the film is a nightmare and how much, if any, can be taken literally? It’s up to you to decide.


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