Like a ballet performance, Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan begins with a showy opening act and closes with a dramatic finale. What happens in between, as we watch a ballerina named Nina lose herself in her new role as the Swan Queen in a New York City ballet production of Swan Lake, is also a dance of sorts: Nina teeters on the brink of sanity, dances around the subject of her own sexuality, and leaps into a side of herself she never knew existed.
As the Swan Queen, Nina is required to play two parts: the virtuous princess-turned-White Swan and her conniving alter ego. As the story goes, the sensual Black Swan seduces her sister's prince, thus keeping the princess trapped as a bird forever. Nina's fragility and innocence make her ideal for the delicate White Swan, but the company's director Thomas initially casts her aside as too prudish to embody the Black Swan as well. When she shows up at his office to change his mind, she inadvertently taps into her suppressed dark side for the first time, winning her the part and beginning a dizzying, suspenseful transformation.
There's a lot to digest in Black Swan, from Aronofsky's glaring black-and-white symbolism to the reasoning behind Nina's insecurities. In the end, whether or not you enjoy the film might be dependent on what lens through which you view it. To find out what I mean, just read more