Ballet is an interesting activity. When done right, it can be mesmerizing and impressive as hell. The physical demands placed on the dancers are enormous (I recall reading a book that described ballet dancers as all being “half-crazed with hunger”), and I can only imagine how heavy the psychological burden must be, especially if you’re not the most stable person in the world to begin with. That’s situation in which a young dancer (Natalie Portman), finds herself in Black Swan.
The movie tells the story of a New York ballet company’s production of Swan Lake. Never seen it performed? Me, either. Thankfully the movie tells you the story of ballet so you’re pretty well-prepared for what’s going on and the eventual overlap between the ballet’s story and the movie’s story.
Anyhow, Portman’s character really, really wants to dance the roles of the White Swan and the Black Swan. She eventually lands the role, but as she does her levels of stability begin to decrease dramatically. She starts hallucinating, scratches her back to the point of bleeding, begins interacting with another dancer who is everything she isn’t, deals with a very unstable mother who clearly wishes she was the one dancing the role, and has a crush on the ballet company’s director.
There’s a lot of psychological drama in this movie; a lot of times when you’re not sure if what you’re seeing is real or just happening in the main character’s mind. I like that in films, when it’s done well (it is here). It’s also fascinating from a technical aspect to watch the way color is used. The ballet world is one of heavy blacks and greys. Portman’s character’s bedroom is a place of white and pink. Her clothes start out white but by the end of the movie there’s a lot of black and grey in them.
And not enough can be said about Portman’s performance. She really is very good in a movie that demands quite a lot of her (she apparently spent 10 months training as a dancer to do the role). She does an excellent job of conveying the mental state of someone who isn’t really that well connected to reality, and she definitely earns every accolade she’s received.
This isn’t the best film of 2010, but I would put it in the lower-half of the top 10.