It should be known that the first thoughts coming out of a movie theater shouldn’t involve choice expletives and much head scratching. Yet Black Swan provoked that feeling, if only to truly figure out the madness I had witness.

Suffice to say, it’s delightfully excellent madness; our heroine’s descent into psychological horror is at once both real and unreal, playing on the potentially nonexistent fears of pressure from outside and within. See the lips move on a painting? Fear the skin prickling because of a sprouting feather? Maybe you do, or maybe not.

Much takes place on the sexual level: Nina’s ballet teacher, the demanding Thomas (a calculative Vincent Cassell), uses sex to drive his star’s performance, while Nina’s competition, Lily (Mila Kunis in her usual, sensual self), is her exact opposite. One is pure and perfection, the other is impure and mistake prone. White and black, being the prominent colors of Swan Lake, also affect the choices of every character. Nina dresses in white and pink every day, a decision that may or may not reflect on her perfectionist mother. When black enters the scene, Nina falls into a crevasse that she doesn’t want to enter, but how else is she supposed to be Thomas’ white and black swan? It heightens the lesbian tryst between Nina and Lily, but also the final thirty minutes, which goes completely off the rails and never comes back, not until the very end in a devastating twist.

Aronofsky said that this is his companion piece to the Wrestler, in terms of art and the pursuit of perfection. The Wrestler, in the world of costumed – and fixed – wrestling, presents a man who does not want to lose relevancy inside the ring, something that occurs with a multitude of wrestlers today staying active well into their fifties. Black Swan is opposite with ballet’s beauty, but not in its relevance. One ballerina is forced away to make room for another one, younger and ageless, at least for the time being, until someone else even younger and more ageless comes along. Beauty only lasts for so long, but does it in the world of plastic surgery and Botox?

Natalie Portman, never completely saddled in a bad role (save for Star Wars), gives the performance of her career here. Her acting is top notch, between her triumphs and her descent into madness, but her physical change is all the more impressive. She dances well, given how much she trained for the film, but she physically changed throughout the film as well. The dress fitter, towards the end, comments on how much weight she lost. Contrast that earlier on, when she wasn’t stressed out and punishing herself, and you can see how much she changed. Definitely one of the best performances of the year for anyone.

One of the year’s best films actually. Just be prepared to ponder what it is you actually saw.

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