Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
Some of the best artists are crazy: Van Gogh snipped off his ear, and Virginia Woolf’s deeply set depression led to her self-imposed drowning. But neither were dancers, so only virtuosos like Nina Sayers – Natalie Portman’s young, repressed overachiever in one of the best movies of the year, “Black Swan” – know how cutthroat the ballet world can be. Director Darren Aronofsky’s brilliant mindfuck of a movie, his follow-up to 2008’s “The Wrestler,” wants you to know it’s a one-way trip to hell.
And, as Nina, Portman lives it like her own, executing precisely what her character can’t: A role completely outside herself. Nina has a handle on the White Swan (why, of course she does: She, as her mother constantly – and eventually hauntingly – remarks, is a “sweet girl”), but its darker double swallows the fragility of her tangled being whole, as she succumbs to horrific pressure while rehearsing for the lead during a New York run of “Swan Lake.” But it isn’t until newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis), her rivaling alternate, steps in that Nina’s jealousy causes her world to completely crash into a maddening meltdown.
Even the one person siding with Nina, her deranged mother (a terrifically terrifying Barbara Hershey), is a Black Swan block: How can Nina be mysterious and sexy like Lily, who’s more convincing in the part, if she’s still getting tucked in by “mommy” and hoarding plushies?
“Seduce us” is the flirty direction stringent instructor Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) dishes to Nina, who goes deep to expose her darker side – into her imagination; into bed with Lily, who goes down on her; and, hoping to perfect her role, into the dressing room of washed-up prima ballerina Beth (Winona Ryder) to swipe some swag. And what the hell… are those really feathers ripping through Nina’s skin?
As she tugs at the inferno of her soul, her self-destruction exacerbates – she vomits more, eats less; scratches, picks, washes and hallucinates. She finds ways to ignite the flames inside her: rebel against her mother, live out a lesbian fantasy, touch herself at the request of her artistic director (“homework,” he calls it, in one of several humorously frisky scenes).
But her paranoid world implodes, especially in the final crescendoing act, and it’s achingly sad to behold her transformation from timid to tigerish. Her cyclone of insanity can’t help but suck us in, as Aronofsky wraps Nina in mood-over-plot melodramatics (even the music, Clint Mansell’s maniacal twist on Tchaikovsky, wonderfully drives the tension) that rattles nerves and plays out like a horror movie – the psych-outs, the blood, the jumps.
Portman, who should start writing her Oscar thanks, is a hypnotic feast for the eyes and mind, mastering the dexterity of the moves but also her character’s complicated psyche – a role that demands the actress be a kid and an adult, mild and wild, winsome and wicked. Her scenes with Hershey, steadily disturbing as the bizarre nature of their relationship heightens, are especially unshakable; this is one sick mother-daughter dynamic. It’s good, however, to see Hershey in a role with so much meat, and the veteran tears at it with her teeth. Kunis’ depth as an actress is particularly powerful as the bewitching, sexed-up understudy, playing Lily with more layers than a part like this might offer. Even Ryder, however briefly she cues craziness onscreen, is impressive.
But Portman owns this movie, as she throws on the hysteria like a snowstorm in a spellbinding, fantastically disturbing film that’s at once hard to watch but impossible not to. If the near-flawless “Black Swan” exposes the price of perfection in all its terror, poor Aronofsky.