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By Michael Schilf · November 29, 2010
The story of Black Swan is nothing new: a rivalry between two girls that twists their friendship, threatening to destroy them both. It's the world of the story, however, that's fresh and original: hard-core psycho ballet.
Nina (Natalie Portman), a nervous, insecure ballerina whose life is completely consumed by dance lands the role of a lifetime: prima ballerina as the lead for Swan Lake, a ballet that requires a ballerina who can dance both the White Swan with gentle grace and innocent frailty, and the Black Swan, who embodies a more sinister, sexual nature. Nina fits the role of the White Swan perfectly, but struggles to capture the reckless vitality of the Black Swan and becomes obsessed by the threat of new company member Lily (Mila Kunis), who dances the Black Swan to perfection. Let the catfight begin!
But if you've seen the trailer, a ballet rivalry and psychological thriller may be the furthest thing from your mind as you were most likely left with one powerful image: two girls engaging in an erotic sex scene. You've been teased and titillated to expect a female love affair. But even if this preview of orgasmic union between two young women has eluded you, not to worry: the steamy liaison has been the subject of much media fascination, and I can't imagine the maelstrom of "sex talk" will cease anytime soon with director Darren Aronofsky's new ballet thriller.
And why not? Because when two girls – never mind the fact that they are Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis – partake in an on-screen sex scene that leaves little to the imagination, sex is all we should be talking about… Right?
Unfortunately, it will be – precisely because this one scene of two naked pulsating female bodies is what will stick with the audience; in a week's, or month's, or year's time, it's what we'll remember, and that is my only problem with the film – so much attention paid to one racy moment.
I wish I could move on, saying that I got the sex stuff out of the way – but the very nature of sex is a huge component of the theme of the film. Black Swan is about growth, change, and metamorphosis. Nina, emotionally still a little girl in a young woman's body, is suffocated by an overbearing and obsessive former ballerina mother (Barbara Hershey), and a large part of her escape centers around sexual liberation: there are two masturbation scenes that clearly illustrate this point quite well, and neither scene is something the media has latched onto like ambrosia. No – it's the Portman/Kunis sex scene that turns heads. And that's unfortunate. The fact that people walk away from a movie like this with questions surrounding girl-on-girl make-out sessions is exactly why the sex scene detracts from an otherwise brilliant film.
I wouldn't go so far as to say Black Swan is "genius", but there are absolutely many masterful moments. Many! And if Portman and Kunis's sex scene had ended up on the cutting room floor, or at least toned down a bit, Black Swan would be an even better film because the audience would have something else to embrace; like say Portman's performance as Nina, which has already prompted many critics to declare her as the frontrunner for this year's best actress Academy Award; or maybe Vincent Cassel's Oscar worthy supporting role as Thomas Leroy, Nina's "Swan Lake" artistic director; or maybe the rigorous physical preparation Portman and Kunis put in to transform their bodies to become near-perfect professional ballerinas. My hope is that those roads will be where the media conversation eventually goes, because Aronofsky's Black Swan deserves it. On all accounts, it truly is a fantastic film.
I don't know about Oscar nominations, but I do know that Black Swan literally kicks some ballet butt. I don't even like ballet, but I was completely mesmerized. Aronofsky, the filmmaker behind Requiem for a Dream and the 2008 Mickey Rourke comeback picture The Wrestler, made it seamlessly easy to appreciate the art of dance while encapsulating the cutthroat world of ballet, but most important, I was transported into an exhilarating world I had never experienced before. I was literally on the edge of my seat, cheering for that perfect pirouette as if it was a fourth and long, with no time on the clock, Super Bowl Hail Mary catch.
And as I sat there through the end credits, I'd be lying if I some part of me didn't feel like flying to New York to see my first ballet: The Nutcracker, Cinderella, Giselle… anything would do. Because of Black Swan, a tinge of ballet is in now my blood, and I'd jump at the chance to see the real deal someday. And that alone is an example of the power of film. Aronofsky has scored again.
But we can't give all the credit to the filmmaker. Hats off to Portman and Kunis – who both trained five to eight hours a day with ballerina instructors, maintaining intense diet and nutrition plans, each losing over 20 pounds before production began. Talk about dedication. Talk about sacrifice. Talk about living the life of the role.
Yes, there's sex in it, but Black Swan is so much more than just a sex scene.
4 out of 4 perfect pirouettes.