Black Swan ★★★★½

When I was younger, this was one of the first films I remember really taking notice of as more than just plain entertainment. It freaked me out big time and really got under my skin, cementing Darren Aronofsky as a director I will always have time for in the process. Thankfully, it's a film that honestly only goes up in my estimation every time I watch it. Just like The Red Shoes, Black Swan deals with dedication, perfection and obsession within the ballet. But whereas the former bases its ideas and conflicts largely around pure artistic merit, Aronofsky delves deep into the physical and mental toll on the obsessed in the way he knows best - by seriously distressing his audience.

Even after countless viewings, it's a really unsettling film - harrowing sequences and disturbing character implications blended with properly wince-inducing body horror. With the free roaming camera and intimate, almost intrusive cinematography, Aronofsky places us right in the middle of a psychological tailspin, slowly building up the tension as Nina's mental state becomes more and more fractured. The story and themes of the Swan Lake ballet seep into Nina's life in a perfect, terrifying way, and her transition from the timid, fragile White Swan to the seductive, captivating Black Swan is conveyed wonderfully by Portman. Thoroughly deserving of her Oscar, for as impressive as she is in the ballet sequences, it's the in the conversational moments that she really shines. She plays Nina as gentle, shy, child-like, and every character brings out a different side of her, often for both better and worse. Portman always manages to make you sympathise with her, without losing the edge of uneasiness that surrounds the character. The whole thing could easily be read as a young girl blossoming into womanhood, and the fear and insecurity that come with that, but pulled off with a troubling tone that matches the gruelling effort these dancers put themselves through. She's the perfect central figure for this layered story; a warped coming-of-age narrative wrapped up as a psychological horror with deeply unsettling sexual undertones, all while being a faithful adaptation of a classic ballet. I loved it way back in 2010, and I love it even more now.

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