When the aging prima ballerina of the company, Beth McIntyre (Winona Ryder), is "retired" by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), the dance company director, the famed role of the Swan Queen is up for grabs and Nina is desperate to secure it. While her technical skill is flawless, Nina just doesn't have any freedom in her dance. Thomas knows she can nail the part of the virginal White Swan, but can she handle the role of her evil twin, the cruel seductress that is the Black Swan? When Nina shows a tiny spark of what she could be, Thomas grants her the role, but then viciously criticizes her every move. Newcomer to the company, Lily (Mila Kunis), is far more free and sure of herself and Nina finds herself insecure in her role, since Thomas seems fascinated with the sensual free spirit that is Lily and even makes her Nina's alternate.
As Nina obsesses over becoming the Black Swan, she begins to see a darker version of herself everywhere she goes. She begins rebelling against her mother, seeing things that can't be happening, and even goes so far as to injure herself as a sort of nervous habit. Soon, Nina can't tell what is real and what is imagined and she slowly, but surely, morphs into her greatest accomplishment, the role of the Black Swan. But will she lose her sanity in the process?
Black Swan is not simply a movie about ballet. As I said earlier, it's a horror story, but one that plays out in the mind of an unstable young woman. Natalie Portman won the Oscar for Best Actress for this role and with good reason. She is simply phenomenal as the broken young woman who can't trust anyone, even herself. Mila Kunis is perfect as Lily and Vincent Cassel can be at once charming and deplorable, as he berates Nina while also trying to seduce her. Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey don't have huge roles, but they are integral and chilling in their performances. There are some disturbing images in Black Swan, along with some strong sexual content between Portman and Kunis, so this is not a film for the young ones, and they really wouldn't get the thrust of the film anyway. The soundtrack is incredibly moving and really serves to push the scenes along and the costumes, designed by Rodarte, are lush and exquisite.
Black Swan is loaded with cool special features, but most are short and sweet. There are two hefty featurettes on the making of the film, plus cast profiles where different cast members discuss their respective roles in the film. There is also a series of featurettes called Behind the Curtain on everything from production design to costuming and everything in between. While watching the film on Blu-ray, I couldn't help but notice that the film wasn't as crisp as I normally expect from a Blu-ray, but I believe that was a style choice on the part of Aronofsky. It kept everything just a little "off" and helped to cement the thought that Nina was losing her grip on reality. There is a lot of CG used in the film, but it is done so in a sparing fashion and really helps to show the audience what Nina was going through. At times, she'd see her reflection staring menacingly from the mirror. Other times, she'd see an odd rash spread across her skin, not unlike the flesh of a bird. As you've no doubt seen in the trailer, she even sees tiny black hairs sprout from her skin. It's all incredibly disturbing, yet riveting.
While Black Swan is not for everyone, if you enjoy psychological horror, you will love Black Swan. Portman's performance, alone, makes it worth the cost of admission. Highly recommended.