Calling Black Swan a psychological thriller might be an understatement.
Sure, it's about ballerinas. But putting these two phenomena (thrillers and ballerinas) together was a stroke of genius. So much about ballet is a dichotomy between beauty and ugliness. All the tutus and pliés and pink ribbons mask the tortured feet, the bulimia, the years of physical rigor that is often a part of ballet culture. Nina (Natalie Portman) knows both sides, but is so obsessed with being perfect in her technique that she thinks of little else. When her naiveté about life in general (and letting loose in particular) threatens to coat her a dream role (the White and Black Swan in Swan Lake), something inside her snaps. She begins to take the whole ego/id clash (which swan lake's lead dual role embodies) to a Jekyll-and-Hyde level. Nina's mother (Barbara Hershey), who still sees Nina as a sweet little girl, isn't helping things. Half the time she seems like the ultimate devoted mother; the other half, her obsession with Nina is downright scary.
Nina both hates and envies the easy-going, fun-loving style of new dancer Lily (Mila Kunis). Her obsession with Lily is due in part to the way she wraps men — including ballet company director Tomas (Vincent Cassel), who Nina has a bit of a thing for — around her little finger. But Lily is no villain...or is she? The film keeps you guessing, even after the drive home, about what Lily did and what was just a figment of Nina's dreams or imagination, pulling something dark and demonic from the depths of her soul — discovering, if you will, her Black Swan.
The film has a few irksome points. At times it seems like sex is used just to titillate – hardly a crime, but it feels beneath this film's level of sophistication. At other times, there is a weird demonization of sexuality; if Nina can't sex it up a bit, then she'll never be as free a dancer as Lily. These are minor details however, and I'm sure many arguments in favor of the sexual aspect of the movie could be proposed.
Fact is, Black Swan is a crazy, surprising, strange, and scary story with riveting characters and a beautiful synergy with its would-be source material, Swan Lake. The concept of a split personality doesn't easily translate into great art, but this time art has made an exception.