PJ and I saw Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan, a psychological thriller about a ballerina and her rival, while we were in New York last week. Natalie Portman stars as Nina, the innocent ballerina who is in line to play the Swan Princess in Swan Lake. Her director, however, is skeptical that she has the sensuality to play the black swan. When he challenges her to get in touch with her less-than-perfect, sexy side, she begins a quest to achieve everything he wants her to be. Here’s the trailer:

Nina begins the film as a more or less virginal princess who, while technically perfect, never really achieves perfection in her dancing because she never embraces passion. Just as the previous prima donna, played by Winona Ryder, is being pushed out of the company and into retirement due to her age, a new, more sensual dancer, Lily, played by Mila Kunis, joins the company. She quickly becomes Nina’s rival for the part.

As a result of the competition, Nina soon becomes obsessed with Lily. What’s initially unclear is whether this obsession is the result of Lily’s desire to push Nina out of the way and take the role for herself or of Nina’s own fantasies. These fantasies revolve not only around dancing but also around her latent sexuality–while she has no chemistry with the male dancers, she’s clearly attracted to Lily, who seems more than willing to help Nina break out of her shell. But again, is she helping Nina or trying to destroy her?

I really liked this film a lot. Portman is fantastic in this role. As the plot progresses, her character gets more and more complicated. She shows a lot of range in this role — more than she’s probably ever had to show before. While most reviews of this movie focus on her intense and lengthy trained to dance ballet, I was most impressed by how much of her acting focuses on her face. She has often has to show us Nina’s emotional state while simultaneously calling that state into question. There’s always more than just one thing happening, in other words. Portman deserves the Oscar for this role.

Kunis is also very good as Lily. Her role is not quite as complex, if only because she’s on-screen for less time. Who would have thought that this The 70s Show star would become a “serious” actress? But she is — soon no one will be calling her television past to mind when they mention her movies.

Barbara Hershey is also wonderful as Nina’s mother, a stage mom who remains bitter that her pregnancy with Nina ended her own dancing career. Again, we soon begin to question whether she’s really on Nina’s side or if she’s part of the problem. Ryder is similarly great in a smaller role.

Furthermore, the scenes from the ballet are wonderful to watch. I don’t know a lot about ballet, but I thought these scenes were thrilling. I enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes parts as well as the scenes of the ballet on stage. Portman’s dancing may or may not be of a professional’s quality, but she deserves kudos for her commitment to the role.

Finally, I thought the cinematography, screenplay, score, and direction were all great. Black Swan should pick up a number of Oscar nominations, even if Portman is the most likely one to win.

I won’t give anything away, but Portman’s last line in the movie is one of my favorite lines ever. It suddenly makes (almost) everything perfectly clear. I really enjoyed watching this film!

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