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“We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes”

Darren Aronofsky takes a page from not only Tchaikovsky but also master thriller director Roman Polanski with his erotic/neurotic horror tale “Black Swan.” Not always coherent, but visually striking and wisely played by its cast, “Black Swan” is a frightening character study focusing on the strain of the spotlight.
Screenwriters Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin use the fundamentals of the original folk lore of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s classic “Swan Lake” where an evil sorcerer curses a girl into the body of a swan, only able to be freed by a prince’s love.  A black twin deceives the prince and denies the white swan her freedom. Defeated, the white swan kills herself.  These ingredients are a perfect foundation for this modern tale of the frailty of fame.
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) wins the role of a ballerina’s lifetime, the Swan Queen. Her exacting director, (Vincent Cassel, “Ocean’s 12”), puts her through a draining process to excel in the role.  He finds her fragility and grace perfect for the white swan, but for the dual role of the seductive black swan, he believes that manipulation is required to pull the dark side out of her.  Little does he suspect, Nina has the destructive seeds of darkness already inside and his machinations are bringing the festering passions to a boil. Nina represents the white swan of the tale; with vibrant Mila Kunis is her doppelganger who is either an “All About Eve” betrayer or a sexual Pied Piper. 
Portman gives such a delicate performance, she breaks apart on the screen, chipping away moment after moment.  While performing the complex dance moves, she’s riveting. While attempting to break out of her shell to find her inner black swan, she’s heartbreaking.  In Aronofsky’s hands, she finds all the paranoid layers Polanski had pulled out of Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby” and Catherine Deneuve in “Repulsion.” 
Kunis, alluring, funny and unpredictable, gives a breakout performance, dangerous and uninhibited. Barbara Hershey, her face so tight it looks like she’s about to shatter herself, is a deranged mother who makes Mama Rose look like Carol Brady.  As the catalyst for Nina’s exhaustion, her character’s cloying presence and needling made ME start to scratch myself red. Cassel, reminiscent of Anton Walbrook’s iconic role as impresario Boris Lermontov in “The Red Shoes,” exudes egotism where his talent permits him to treat people like pawns for the “better good of the art.” 
Aronofsky uses arresting visuals, unsettling and gripping: reptilian scales that climb a body in a slow metamorphosis, a tattoo that takes flight, an invalid who goes crazy with a nail file, artistic rendering coming to life to taunt, these images are haunting.  Aronofsky uses sound to unsettle the audience, particularly the crackling of bones and the flurrying of wings. It’s an assault from every angle, just as Polanski would unleash upon his audiences.  A masterpiece of dementia, “Black Swan” is a triumph of terror.  Grade: A


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