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Movie review: 'Black Swan'

Black Swan

Black Swan Credit: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Black Swan
3.5 stars
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder

“Black Swan,” the latest psychological thriller from Darren Aronofsky, isn’t the kind of movie you dissect over dinner with friends. It works in more intuitive ways, enshrouding you so fully that, even days later, you’ll be startled by some memory of the film that never quite exited your brain. “Haunting” is an adjective frequently ascribed to movies, but “Black Swan” outright deserves the designation.

Natalie Portman, putting on the best performance of her adult career, stars as Nina Sayers, a ballerina desperate to land the role of the Swan Queen in her ballet company’s staging of “Swan Lake.” The role encompasses dual personalities — the graceful, innocent White Swan and the wild, sensual Black Swan. Nina was born to play the White Swan, but perfecting the Black Swan requires her to tap into lodes of passion that previously lay dormant within her.

As denoted by her bedroom — crammed with pink frills and stuffed animals — Nina is trapped in arrested development, monitored closely by her has-been ballerina mother and roommate (Barbara Hershey). Friendless and buffeted by this doting mom and a lascivious director (Vincent Cassel), who fast-tracks her sexual awakening with private hands-on demos (all in the name of getting her into Black Swan character), Nina — who is already mentally fragile to begin with — implodes. Paranoia sets in, as do eerie visions that may or may not be real.

Aronofsky generates a visceral and purposefully unpleasant experience through excruciating close-ups of Nina’s battered ballerina body, from cracked, bleeding toenails to undernourished musculature. He throws in lesbian sex for good titillating measure, which some may find cheap but which undeniably serves the erotically charged world that he has created. By the movie’s end, you’ll feel as haggard as Portman’s face looks.

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