Natalie Portman is the ‘Black Swan’ on Max

The Red Shoes meets Repulsion in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2009), a jittery psychological portrait of neurosis and obsession in a meek, repressed young woman who still has little girl prima ballerina dreams.

Nina (Natalie Portman), a longtime member of the New York City Ballet company, is woman/child still living under the suffocating attentions of her mother (Barbara Hershey). Her spiral into obsession, hallucination, and sexual awakening (despite her protestations, she’s almost surely still a virgin) begins when she’s cast to play the twin roles of the White Swan and the Black Swan in a new production. She’s a perfectionist challenged to drop her control and let her passions pour out.

Vincent Cassel plays the company director who uses seduction as a tool to draw out his dancers (or maybe he’s just an oily manipulator) and Mila Kunis is the newest dancer, a free spirit whose passion makes up for her technical limitations. Nina starts to see paranoid plots and dark doppelgangers in every mirror (and there are mirrors everywhere, not to admire oneself but to reveal flaws and constantly judge one’s own performance) and the camera smears identities until we no longer know what’s real and what’s in her mind.

Winona Ryder costars as the one-time prima ballerina pressured to retire by Thomas, now become jaded, tempestuous, diva-like, and angry (a possible vision of Nina’s future)

The film polarized critics, with many complaining of the melodrama, hysteria and blunt metaphors (“high-grade hokum,” as one critic called it). The mix of culture and kinky psychodrama brought in audiences and earned Natalie Portman an Academy Award, one of the five Oscar nominations it earned in all.

It also won four Film Independent Spirit Awards, including best feature and director, and a BAFTA for Portman, while Mila Kunis won an award from the Venice Film Festival.

Rated R

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Black Swan [Blu-ray]
Black Swan [DVD]

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Also on DVD and Blu-ray. The DVD features the 48-minute “Black Swan Metamorphosis,” a well-made three-part production documentary that digs into the creative process of the filmmakers and the practical challenges of the production with a wealth of footage from the shoot (you won’t believe just how simply some of the effects are accomplished) and nuts-and-bolts interviews with the cast and crew.

The Blu-ray features a lot of additional featurettes, some of them promo pieces created for cable, all of them under five minutes each. There are micro-featurettes on “Ballet,” “Production Design” and “Costume Design,” a short “Profile” on star Portman and on director Aronofsky, two far-too-brief featurettes with Portman and Aronofsky discussing the film (“Conversation: Preparing For the Role” and “Conversation: Dancing With the Camera”) and five “Fox Movie Channel Presents” promo pieces with Aronofsky and the films four leads.

Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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