Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a young ingenue whose desire to be cast as the lead in her company's ballet performance of Swan Lake was suddenly granted. The vulnerable and repressed Nina is the perfect choice to play the part of the virginal and innocent Swan Queen. Unfortunately, Nina lacks the passion and wild side to personify Swan Queen's deceitful twin sister, the Black Swan. The two qualities which are possessed by a newcomer named Lily (Mila Klunis). Rounding up the casts are Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy, the demanding director who uses sex to direct his dancers; Wynona Rider as Beth Macintyre, the embittered former star who is forced into early retirement; and Barbara Hershey as Erica Sayers, Nina's domineering and controlling mother who lives vicariously through her daughter because she sacrificed her career in order to have Nina. As the pressure to be perfect builds, Nina tries to lose herself in the roles but soon the line between reality and fantasy blurs and indivisibly makes everyone she crosses paths with her enemy, even herself. In the end viewers are left to find out which is real and which is imaginary.
At first glance, the movie seems just like your usual psychological thriller about a mentally unstable girl with paranoid delusions. However, the script cleverly elevated the storyline beyond just drama and thriller to comprise other genre and theme such as body horror and sexual awakenings. Yes, the catty competition aspect between two rival dancers is generic, but it is still pretty irresistible. Furthermore, the script utilizes the characters as metaphors for different constructs of Nina's psyche. There is Nina, the submissive and confused part that serves as the point of entry for viewers. Then there is Lily, the darker side who tries to steal the spotlight and by doing so feeds the paranoia. The mother as the voice of critiques that pushes Nina to be perfect all the time. And Beth, who struggled to retain her star status after her fifteen minutes were up, a scenario Nina fears will be happening to her sooner than expected.
The movie contains some genuinely earned scares and cringe inducing moments that had me at the edge of my seat for the whole 1 hour and 40 minutes, which is not an easy feat to accomplish as I've had my share of scary movies in the past. To say that this movie managed to knock the living daylights out of even a hardcore horror fan like me is not an exaggeration. Much of the success of the frights could be contributed to the musical scores composed by Clint Mansell. The scores successfully enhanced the daunting and eerie ambiance of the movie but still beautifully classic at the same time. The scores actually reminds me of classic noir and old horror movies such as Psycho.
Portman's performance as Nina is as captivating as it is flawless. It was apparent that this role is the most physically demanding one out of her career and she managed to pull it off gracefully. We have always known that Portman is a very talented actress and possesses a lot of range when it comes to emotional performances, but this role also gave her the opportunity to showcase her skill as a dancer and let us see how devoted she is to her crafts and as a performer. How that girl hasn't even won an Oscar yet is beyond me. Mila Klunis' role is different than what she used to play, however she holds her own and managed to steal some scenes from under Portman. Klunis' performance successfully makes her character a perfect foil to Portman's. Complex on many layers, darkly disturbing, and acutely intense, Black Swan is a movie that once it grasps you, it never lets go. A definite must-watch.