Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 49
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010
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Cinema

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

WILL THE REAL NINA SAYERS STEP FORWARD: While sitting before her makeup mirror in her dressing room, Nina is surrounded by secondary images of herself. One can imagine that each image is a different facet of her personality that has been created by the various pressures that are being brought to bear by her director, mother, rivals, and so forth.

Black Swan: Aspiring Ballerina Succumbs to Pressures in Psychological Thriller

Kam Williams

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a dancer with a leading New York City ballet company that is preparing to stage Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Until now she’s been a member of the corps de ballet, however, the director Thomas, (Vincent Cassel), has told her that he wants her to try out for the leading role in the upcoming production.

Thomas has decided that it’s time to replace the company’s prima ballerina, Beth (Winona Ryder), who is past her prime. Of course, Nina is only one of several promising candidates who have been invited to audition for the lead role of both the white and black swan.

She proceeds to perform flawlessly as the former, effortlessly exhibiting the innocence called upon to play that part. But Thomas nevertheless has reservations about casting Nina when she fails to display the sensuality expected of the character’s seductive black swan alter ego.

Therefore, in order to determine whether or not Nina can exhibit the sensuality required to dance the role of the black swan, he pressures her to prove it by having her sleep with him. The shocked Nina decides to give in to him because she realizes that if she fails to go along with his proposition, there are others, especially her closest rival, Lily (Mila Kunis), who will eagerly jump at the opportunity.

Additional pressure on Nina comes from her overbearing stage mother Erica, (Barbara Hershey), who is vicariously enjoying Nina’s successes. Erica puts pressure on her daughter by continually reminding her about “the career I gave up to have you.” Finally, to add insult to injury, when Nina is announced as Beth’s replacement, Beth asks her “What did you do to get the role?” insinuating that she slept her way to the top.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), Black Swan is a harrowing psychological thriller that paints a surreal portrait of the consequences of compromising one’s values in order to attain success. The closer Nina approaches the realization of her lifelong dream, the more her soul becomes tormented.

In addition to the film’s riveting story, its dance sequences are especially engaging, thanks to a splendid combination of costumes, sound, lighting, and choreography that is executed by a cast of professionals from the Pennsylvania Ballet and the American Ballet Theater.

The film is an intriguing mindbender and, in this critic’s opinion, Natalie Portman is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated R for profanity, graphic sexuality, drug use, and disturbing violent images. Running time: 107 Minutes. Distributor: Fox Searchlight.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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