black_swan_web.jpgIn Black Swan, Nina, played by Natalie Portman, is a dancer in a ballet company.  Prone to be the naïve, weak one, she lands the role of the Swan Queen in her company’s production of Swan Lake.

But, this production has a dark twin sister.  In this production, the white swan falls in love with a prince, who is stolen by her twin sister, the black swan. 

In an effort to set herself free, the white swan kills herself.  It is Nina’s descent into madness to become the dark swan that makes this film what it is.  Never has a more tortured artist been portrayed on screen.  Black Swan depicts the extreme of what some people go through for their crafts. 

I am very disturbed by this film.  Director Darren Aronofsky must have been going for just that feeling when he interpreted the screenplay written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John McLaughlin.  The story comes from the sole mind of Heinz, by the way.

It’s not bad enough that Aronofsky and his writers have worked over-time to horrify their audiences with such gems as Nina doing the unspeakable to her skin and having a doctor do what had to be incredibly painful to the inside of her ribs. No, little Nina, probably in her mid-twenties, has an obsessive mother who tries to squire her daughter away from outsiders and live solely through her ballet shoes.  To make matters even worse, Nina’s home life has obviously affected every aspect of her life.

She’s never even had a real boyfriend.

Clearly, becoming the white, innocent swan is the only problem Nina doesn’t have.  It’s being the seductress black swan.  To bring that dark passion out of Nina, her company director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), pushes her to explore her sexual side; a side of Nina that has been dormant for years, no doubt because of her mother’s smothering ways. 

The symbolism of this film and Portman’s performance are its best assets.  Aronofsky juxtaposes Nina and fellow company member, Lily (Mila Kunis) as good and evil.  Nina wears white and pastel pink.  Nina is always in black.  Both are great dancers, easily in competition with one another.

As Nina gets closer and closer to being the black swan Thomas needs her to be, the black starts to infiltrate her wardrobe.  If only she didn’t have major issues that make her stepping into her own as a woman such a maddening experience.  The madness is small, at first.  Nina starts seeing her face on obviously sexy women.  At her climax, Nina’s naïve self turns into the dark twin and attacks the weakness within herself; both physically and mentally.

In the end, Nina does give her performance, but at what cost?  One of the best scenes is  Nina’s response when asked her name.

As good films do, this one made me think. Not only does it make me wonder how much artists really give of themselves and their lives for their ascension;  it also makes me take a look at my own life as an artist. 

Black Swan is a shocking look at what it means to be an artist and give yourself fully to your craft. 

Kim Grant may be contacted at