A young girl is devoured by her dark persona and transforms from ugly duckling into graceful swan. Darren Aronofsky’s wonderful choreography is a chiaroscuro ballet on the boundary between light and shadow; he dances between genres and his new film pirouettes between MOMMIE DEAREST and THE RED SHOES.
Nina is a very troubled young lady, stuck in an everlasting pink and frilly childhood inhabited by stuffed animals and a maniacal mother. She seeks perfection in dance, her only form of expression, but soon discovers that there is a fine line in dying for your art…and dying because of it. Nina is cold and detached, her life seemingly nothing more than work and sleep, disassociated from social contact and introspection. Her mother is an ex-dancer with an unhealthy and emotionally incestuous obsession with her only daughter, her love like barbs under the skin. When Nina lands the lead in Swan Lake, she must transform from the lovely white swan and become her doppelganger, allowing the penumbra of savage desire to eclipse the light.
Aronofsky deftly blends fantasy and reality, allowing the viewer to experience the chaos of Nina’s transformation both physically and emotionally. The film detours too often towards visual absurdity but Natalie Portman’s physical performance acts as a counterbalance, though one scene is laughably absurd (and not in a good way). The film is beautifully crafted and the cinematography intimate, like a ghost that haunts her every move recording her most secret of desires. Another flaw is that it is as cold and detached as its heroine, only depicting Nina as a foil: Aronofsky fails to create a real and totally believable character, without vital insight into the tiny movements of human behavior which he so expertly accomplished in THE WRESTLER. The film is frigid though intriguing. Nina finally achieves perfection though it becomes her swan song.
Final Grade: (B-)