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Natalie Portman, a deeply dark 'Black Swan': movie review

Natalie Portman stars in a ballet film that's a 'willfully deranged quasi-horrorfest.'

By Peter RainerFilm critic / December 3, 2010

Natalie Portman is shown in a scene from 'Black Swan.'

Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight/AP


"Black Swan" is a love-it-or-hate-it movie. Put me in the (sort of) hate-it column. My slight qualification here is because Darren Aronofsky's movie starring Natalie Portman as an increasingly unhinged ballerina gets points for being unlike anything else that's out there.

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But being different isn't the same thing as being good. Watching this willfully deranged quasi-horrorfest, I would gratefully have chucked it all for a revival of "The Red Shoes," which was also pretty flagrant, though less deranged.

The Powell-Pressburger "Red Shoes" (1948) inspired an entire generation of girls to become ballerinas. "Black Swan" is likely to have the opposite effect. Scrape off the film's heebie-jeebie folderol and you're left with this: Become a dancer, go mad.

Portman's Nina, a virginal young thing with a benevolent-despot stage mom (Barbara Hershey) and a mania for perfection, lands the role of the Swan Queen in an upcoming, daringly "revisionist" (i.e., sexy) production of "Swan Lake." The problem is, Nina must also dance the ballet's bewitching Black Swan.

Because the stud-Svengali artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) is skeptical that Nina can make it over to the dark side, he brings in a rival dancer, the sexed-up Lily (Mila Kunis), to act as both goad and back-up. (She also becomes Nina's fantasy lover, or maybe it's just another one of those now-you-see-it-now-you-don't dream sequences.)

Working from a script by Mark Hey-man, Andres Heinz, and John McLaughlin, Aronofsky plays up the thematic parallels between Nina's dissolution and the narrative of "Swan Lake." He dresses Nina in white and her co-players in dark colors, just in case we missed the point.

He blurs the line from the get-go between her reality and her rapidly accelerating fearful fantasies. A split toenail in this movie is never just a split toenail. It's a portal into horror, or, to be more specific, artsy B-movie horror shenanigans.


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