Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, a ballet dancer who gets her break when she is cast as the lead in Swan Lake by company director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). Nina initially can play the White Swan role in the ballet perfectly, but being able to play the Black Swan requires her to "let go" of herself during her dancing. However, as she "lets go" during performances, she also finds herself letting go of life generally, and (quite literally) becoming the Black Swan.
From very early on Nina discovers scratches on her back (the beginnings of wings), and her skin occasionally ripples with a poultry-like texture! Psychologically, having been raised by an overbearing mother (a failed dancer), Nina finds herself rebelling slightly; wanting privacy at home, going out drinking late with fellow dancer (and understudy for lead Swan) Lily (Mila Kunis). She also starts begins to fantasize, having sex with Lily, and imagining that Lily is trying to get Nina out of the picture so that she can have the title role. This culminates in the final performance when Nina believes that she has stabbed Lily to death in her changing room. Nina then dances the Black Swan perfectly, but before the show's climax realises that she has not stabbed Lily but herself! In the final act of the ballet when the White Swan jumps to her death, the gut wound she inflicted on herself is suddenly obvious and Nina dies having finished the "Perfect" dance.
I don't know anything about ballet, and did not know the story of Swan Lake, though a very neat summary is given by Vincent Cassel towards the beginning of the film. Natalie is very good, I'm not familiar with all her work but I guess this could be her biggest lead role, and she carries it very well; completely erasing any Star Wars doubts. She did have a major role in V for Vendetta, where I also thought she was very good, but it wasn't really her film; and I'm not sure about Closer as I haven't seen it. Black Swan perhaps is her most mature performance, proving that she can cope with demanding roles.
Vincent Cassel has an influential role, but not a major role; yet still seems to have quite an off-screen presence that drives Natalie's character in a particular direction. It was slightly disorientating seeing him in this because I am half way through watching Mesrine: Killer Instinct, in which Vincent Cassel plays a notorious French gangster. My review will follow later as there are actually 2 parts to the film, and I've only watched the first. Consequently, the confusion remains: French Gangster, or Ballet instructor?!
Technically, Darren Aronofsky like using mirrors in this film. A lot. It does work, showing the two sides of Nina's character and how it is becoming fractioned and disjointed. Most obviously of course when dancing in the studio, and the reflection of Nina continues dancing for just second after she has actually stopped dancing. I did think on occasion that half of the special effects budget must have been spent on removing the reflections of the camera crew as Natalie danced around the studio in front of loads of mirrors!
(A fly on the wall watches Natalie get ready)
Actually, there are scenes demonstrating Nina's transformation to a Swan, where she pulls at a raggedy finger nail and rips a huge bit of skin off her finger! Very reminiscent of Brundle-fly! Seeing Natalie dressed like this reminds me; near the beginning of the film there is a shot from the stands of the studio looking down on all the dancers training as Vincent Cassel approaches; really reminded me of Enter the Dragon as the competitors first arrive on Han's Island and they look down on hundreds of people practising their Kung Fu! Mmmm. There were lots of mirrors used there too!
Anyway! Russ recommends seeing it. Black Swan that is. Possibly even deserving of an Academy Award. Also see Enter the Dragon if you haven't!