Black Swan (2010) Director: Darren Aronofsky

Black Swan is a frustrating film. The question I kept asking myself throughout was "What makes this any different to Showgirls?" Black Swan is very similar to Paul Verhoven's universally panned film, but without the full frontal nudity; the script is pretty ridiculous, the situations and visions of ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) are sometimes laughable, and the sex scene between Nina and Lily (Mila Kunis) was written for male titillation. What saves the film is Natalie Portman's peformance. For the last 20 minutes of the film, I forgive all that came before it. She and her transformation to the Black Swan are INCREDIBLE.

The film is completely absorbing from the start, and you flow with it despite it being more uncomfortable than Martyrs. Nina, a 28 year old ballerina with the New York City ballet company, lives and has a Carrie-like relationship with her mother (a powerful Barbara Hershey) and is childlike and deeply troubled in many ways - the stuffed toys in her bedroom, the fact that there are no locks on the doors, BIG hints at self harm, psychological issues and anorexia. When principal dancer Beth (Winona Ryder) retires in a cut-throat way, director Thomas (a deliciously sleazy Vincent Cassel) seeks to cast his lead dancer for the White and Black Swan in their new production of Swan Lake. Nina wants this part badly, but has to put up with the younger and threatening Lily who taunts Nina with wings tattooed on her back. Despite the competition, Thomas casts Nina as the principal dancer, after he kisses her and she bites his lip.

Thomas doubts Nina can dance the Black Swan, as she seems to be so sexually repressed, and asks her to do some homework and "go home and touch herself". This is where the film turns into Aronofsky's little dirty fantasy, and men shuffle uncomfortably as we lead up to 'that' scene with Kunis. When Kunis wipes her mouth, THAT IS FOR MEN. I see no difference between this and the whole of Showgirls.

As Nina goes more off the rails, she has increasingly horrific visions and the film strengthens with its body horror and obvious homage to Argento and Suspiria. Nina is cracking up before our eyes and is literally turning into the Black Swan as she embraces her dark side more and more. She sprouts feathers on her back, and her nails start to bleed as she grows claws. The terrifying turn of events before her opening night are complemented with a dramatic orchestral soundtrack, like she is performing on stage already, and there is a true shock moment when she visits Beth in hospital, who has (seemingly intentionally) been hit by a car. You won't want to file your nails ever again.

When Nina takes to the stage on opening night, everything about her is perfect (yes, even despite that lift). She is almost too beautiful to look at - her beauty is astounding as the White Swan. Her transformation to Black Swan is completed by the ultimate sacrifice - and she dances as if her life depends on it. What Aronofsky is great at is making us feel like we're on stage with her - with the sweeping camera, we become Nina and are disorientated by the movement; we dance around stage with her, we nearly crash into the other dancers, we see the audience from her perspective. How Portman pulled this off is beyond comprehension - she puts in an extraordinary performance and we believe every moment of it. What comes next is tragic, but we feel that she has somehow been saved. She can do no more. It's exquisite, poignant and leaves you emotionally drained. Black Swan is a head-fuck, but well worth the endurance.
4/5 dark, dark plies