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Video: 'Black Swan'

Image: Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"
Niko Tavernise  /  Fox Searchlight
Natalie Portman gives it her all, physically and mentally, in a brave and demanding performance as Nina, a driven New York City ballerina who has zero life outside of dance.
By
updated 12/1/2010 1:43:26 PM ET 2010-12-01T18:43:26
Review

"Black Swan" is at once gorgeous and gloriously nutso, a trippy, twisted fantasy that delights and disturbs in equal measure.

Darren Aronofsky takes the same stripped-down fascination with, and appreciation for, the minutiae of preparation that he brought to his Oscar-nominated "The Wrestler" — the best film of 2008, according to yours truly — and applies it to the pursuit of a different kind of artistry: ballet. All the intimate, behind-the-scenes moments are there, the matter-of-fact glimpses of the tricks that go into the performance as well as the toll this demanding activity takes on the body.

But then the director mixes in a wildly hallucinatory flair as "Black Swan" enters darker psychological territory. Working with his frequent cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, and incorporating some dazzling visual effects, Aronofsky spins a nightmare scenario within a seemingly gentle, pristine world. The camera swoops and swoons, making us feel as off-kilter as the film's tormented heroine. The visions and dreams soar seriously over-the-top at times, but always knowingly so, and with great style; "Black Swan" wallows in its grandiosity, and if you're willing to go along with it, you'll find yourself wowed by one of the best films of the year.

Natalie Portman gives it her all, physically and mentally, in a brave and demanding performance as Nina, a driven New York City ballerina who has zero life outside of dance. Portman had studied ballet growing up, but "Black Swan" required a grueling regimen of training five hours a day, everyday, for 10 months before production even began.

Innocently enduring a sheltered existence with her smothering mother, Erica (a deeply creepy Barbara Hershey), a former ballet dancer herself now living vicariously through her daughter, Nina is stuck in a state of arrested development. She's immensely talented and dedicated but still a child inside, as evidenced by the fluffy stuffed bunnies that populate her girly-pink bedroom, and the way her mommy still tucks her in at night.

Video: Watch the "Black Swan" trailer (on this page)

When it comes time to stage a bold, new production of "Swan Lake," the company's artistic director (a skeevy and manipulative Vincent Cassel) thinks Nina is perfect to play the White Swan. But he needs a dancer who also can portray the fierce sexuality of the Black Swan. Enter Lily (Mila Kunis), a savvy and confident newcomer who represents Nina's biggest threat to getting the lead role. So yes, the script from Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin does have its obvious influences — "The Red Shoes," "The Turning Point" and "All About Eve" among them — and yet "Black Swan" emerges as a fascinating entity all its own.

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Nina snags the part, with Lily as her understudy. The two women don't exactly become friends but achieve a sort of competitive symbiosis; the deeper Nina gets into rehearsals, the more she sees Lily in her mind, both as a frightening force and as the kind of woman she'd like to be. The fact that Portman and Kunis resemble each other in features and stature greatly enhances this effect — and yes, the hotly anticipated love scene between the two is indeed hot.

But Nina also sees her body transforming, morphing grotesquely as she finds both the white and black swans within herself, with the romantic but rough ballet costumes from the fashion designers known as Rodarte almost becoming an extension of her body. Or does she? By blending realism with fantastical elements, Aronofsky continuously keeps us guessing as to what's actually happening and what's a figment of Nina's imagination.

One thing's for certain, though: "Black Swan" will leave you feeling stunned as you leave the theater. And humming Tchaikovsky.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Natalie Portman

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  1. Straight arrow

    Portman plays a warrior princess in 2011's "Your Highness," starring alongside James Franco and Danny McBride. The film has been called "a medieval stoner comedy." (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Megawatt smile

    Portman arrives at the premiere of "No Strings Attached" in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011. The film received mediocre reviews but did better than expected at the box office. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Mismatched couple?

    In 2011 comedy "No Strings Attached," Portman plays a doctor who tries to keep her relationship with Ashton Kutcher purely physical. The film topped the box office on its debut weekend, beating Seth Rogen's "The Green Hornet." (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. He does want to sleep with me

    While accepting her best actress Golden Globe for "Black Swan," Portman thanked Millepied, who plays a small role in the film as a dancer with no sexual interest in the neurotic Nina. "It's not true! He totally wants to sleep with me!" she said. Her nervous laugh after delivering the joke was repeated and drawn out into a viral video that quickly made the rounds on the Internet. (Handout / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Parents to be

    Portman and Millepied arrive at the Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 16, 2011 in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was born in France and raised in Senegal, beginning ballet training at age 8 with his mother, herself a ballet dancer. He reportedly left the ballerina with whom he was living when he and Portman fell in love on "Black Swan." (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Beauty in black and white

    Natalie Portman won the best actress award at the Critics' Choice Awards on Jan. 14, 2011 in Los Angeles. She thanked "Black Swan" director Darren Aronofsky, joking "You made me very skinny and you ... made me fat," referring to the workouts she took on for the role and to her eventual pregnancy with and engagement to choreographer Benjamin Millepied. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Dark side

    In 2010's "Black Swan," Portman plays nervous and naive ballerina Nina, who can play "Swan Lake's" innocent white swan easily, but struggles to understand the role of the sensual black swan. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Bringing hope to the world

    Portman speaks at the 25th anniversary of the Foundation for International Community Assistance in November 2010. She is an ambassador of hope for the group, which promotes the use of micro-finance to provide financial services to the world’s lowest-income entrepreneurs. Portman has visited FINCA programs in Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Uganda and often speaks on its behalf. (Joe Corrigan / Getty Images for FINCA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. War story

    In 2009's "Brothers," Portman plays a mom and wife who's suddenly left a widow, or so she believes. But her husband, played by Tobey Maguire, makes an unexpected return, only to find that his brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) has fallen for Portman's character. (Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Giving out the gold

    Ben Stiller, dressed as Joaquin Phoenix, presented an award with Portman at the 2009 Academy Awards. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The city that never sleeps

    In 2009, Portman starred in "New York, I Love You," a collective work of 11 short films about the city. It's the second in a series called the "Cities of Love" franchise. 2006's "Paris, je t'aime" was the first. (Vivendi Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Putting her best foot forward

    Portman was a vegetarian since childhood and became a vegan in 2009, reportedly after reading Jonathan Safran Foer's book, "Eating Animals." The year before that, she launched a line of vegan footwear, seen here. (Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Losing her head

    Portman played the famous Anne Boleyn and Scarlett Johansson her lesser-known sister Mary in 2008's "The Other Boleyn Girl," based on Philippa Gregory's novel. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Bluer than blue

    In 2007, Portman starred with Norah Jones in "My Blueberry Nights," the first English feature film directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai. Portman plays a poker player who's lost all her money gambling. (The Weinstein Company) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Going ape

    In 2007, Portman teamed up with wildlife expert Jack Hanna to make "Gorillas on the Brink," a TV special about the plight of gorillas in Rwanda. (Animal Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Double role

    Portman plays two characters in 2007's "Goya's Ghosts," set in Spain in the 1700s. She portrays both a young model and her lookalike, a prostitute. (Samuel Goldwyn Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. World of 'Wonder'

    Portman plays an employee in a magical toy store run by Dustin Hoffman in 2007's "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium." She told the press she was excited to make a movie for children. (Fox-Walden) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rap it up

    In 2006, Portman spoofed herself in an SNL Digital Short on "Saturday Night Live." She turns her good-girl image on its ear by playing herself as an angry gangsta rapper, saying when she was at Harvard she did drugs constantly and cheated on every test.

    Hulu.com: Natalie Portman raps on "SNL." (Hulu) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Who needs hair?

    Portman wasn't afraid to shave her head for 2006's "V for Vendetta," an adaptation of the comic book series of the same name. Her character joins an underground anti-government group. Jerusalem-born Portman has been quoted as saying "being from Israel was a reason I wanted to do this because terrorism and violence are such a daily part of my conversations since I was little." (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Close to you

    Portman and Clive Owen starred in 2004's "Closer," often mentioned as one of the actress' best films. Both Owen and Portman were nominated for supporting-acting Oscars for their roles. Neither won, but they did win Golden Globes. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Smile for the cameras

    Portman poses for pictures during the New York premiere of "Garden State" in 2004. (Stephen Lovekin / FilmMagic) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. 'Garden State'

    Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, left, and Zach Braff, right, starred in 2004's "Garden State." Portman's character was an epileptic and a pathological liar. Braff wrote and directed the film, which had only a limited release in theaters but gained more attention on DVD. (Fox Searchlight) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Giving birth at Wal-Mart

    Portman starred in the 2000 film "Where the Heart Is," based on the best-selling Billie Letts novel. She plays Novalee Nation, who is abandoned by her boyfriend at a Wal-Mart and decides to live there, even giving birth to her baby in the store. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Luke, I am your mother

    Portman gained real fame in 1999 when she played Queen Padme Amidala in the first of the three "Star Wars" prequels, "The Phantom Menace." Her marriage to Anakin Skywalker, who later becomes Darth Vader, produces twins Luke and Leia, but she dies giving birth to them. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. You are so 'Beautiful'

    In 1996's "Beautiful Girls," Portman plays a young girl who describes herself as "an old soul." Matt Dillon, Timothy Hutton and Rosie O'Donnell also star. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Working with Woody Allen

    Portman also had a role in the 1996 Woody Allen film "Everyone Says I Love You." (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Getting her start

    Natalie Portman was just 13 when she made her feature film debut, as a child who befriends a middle-aged hitman (Jean Reno) in 1994's "Leon: The Professional." Born Natalie Hershlag, she took her grandmother's maiden name, Portman, for her stage name. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
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