Central to the beauty and power of the ballet Swan Lake—of which Black Swan is a sort of contemporary, hallucinatory offspring—are contrasts and dynamics, complimentary parts of a yin-yang whole: Light and dark, good and evil, soft and loud (as in Tchaikovsky's famous music). When the ballet is performed, one ballerina plays both the heroine Odette ("The White Swan") and her evil foil/doppelganger Odile ("The Black Swan"). It's a dream role, to be sure, but supremely challenging to pull off. The dual parts require the performer to simultaneously attune to her inner darkness and light, hopping back and forth between dialectical extremes, to the delight of audiences enthralled by the bravura embodiment of such range and passion. It'd be enough to make any ballerina go insane.
Darren Aronfosky's Black Swan is about Nina (Natalie Portman), an ingénue ballerina in a New York City company who lands the coveted White/Black Swan role after the reigning prima (Winona Ryder) is dismissed on account of being too old. Nina is a tightly wound, sweetly mannered perfectionist with a crazy-eyed stage mom (Barbara Hershey), so naturally she takes her prized star turn extremely seriously. In the lead up to her big debut, Nina's fixation on giving the audience the perfect performance begins to consume her. (Fitting that the film's official website is ijustwanttobeperfect.com.) She becomes obsessed with her weaknesses and paranoid that her understudy (Mila Kunis) has an eye on sabotage. When the ballet director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) tells Nina that her Black Swan is less than convincing, she becomes fixated on tapping into her own dormant or undiscovered darkness. And this is when things really start to spin out of control. ...1