‘Black Swan’ message overshadowed by familiar story

Tom Andrew

“Black Swan,” starring recent Golden Globe winner Natalie Portman and playing in theaters across San Diego, tells the story of a young ballet dancer coming to grips with her sexuality and her growth as a dancer.

It’s a story that we’ve seen before. In fact, the film is based on and closely follows the story of the classic ballet “Swan Lake.”

Nina Sayers is a meek, withdrawn and moderately content dancer with a New York City ballet company. Her dream, like most ballet dancers, is to play the lead.

She gets her chance when the company’s longtime prima ballerina (Winona Ryder, remember her?) is fired. Nina is cast as the lead in the company’s upcoming production of “Swan Lake.”

Natalie Portman plays Nina with just the right amount of innocence and desire to explore her darker side. She is adept at being childlike and then frighteningly aggressive when we see her darker side.

Barbara Hershey does an admirable job as Nina’s mother but is a hollow imitation of the actress she once was. Hershey has had so much plastic surgery that it distracts from her work.

Ryder, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel offer fine support, and the direction by Darren Aronofsky of “The Wrestler” and “Requiem for a Dream” moves deftly between reality, fantasy and the world of ballet.

“Black Swan” is a haunting film and also quite beautiful, with images you will find hard to forget.

Nina’s director, played by a shrewd and predator-like Cassel, says she is the graceful White Swan but needs to let herself go and become the more sensual Black Swan, as well. He breaks her down until she literally tortures herself into the part.

Nina’s mother watches over her as if she were still a ten-year-old child. Hershey’s character pushes her daughter to become the ballet dancer she never was and then tries to keep her daughter from succeeding when she thinks the role is too demanding.

The story, if we look closer, tells of a girl conflicted about who she is, sexually inexperienced, terrified and excited about becoming the more alluring Black Swan. Her director sexually taunts her, her mother treats her like a little girl, and the ballet company’s sexy newcomer, played by Kunis, gives Nina a taste of drugs, alcohol and an alternative lifestyle.

Recent headlines report on how young teens and adults have been choosing suicide over trying to deal with the pressures of life and who they are. In “Black Swan,” we are shown how the pressures of success can be too much for a young girl who has led a rather sheltered life.

Nina tries to please everyone close to her but doesn’t know how to please herself. She ends up exactly where the White Swan ends up in “Swan Lake.”

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