Aronofsky keeps to his theme of the physical, mental, and spiritual toll of seeking some level of perfection or immortality again in Black Swan.
Nina (Natalie Portman) is a competent dance troupe member seeking only perfection in her performance. Her obsessesive, controlling mother (Barbara Hershey) is one of the examples in her life of what Nina could become - never a lead, always part of the group, but isolated and neurotic. When it’s announced that the primary ballerina Beth (Winona Ryder) is retiring everyone’s focus becomes getting the lead in their newest version of Swan Lake. The group’s director, a schmarmy, Euro-sleazy svengali named Thomas (Vincent Cassell), has his eyes set on the “ice queen” Nina, hoping he can bring out her sexy, uninhibited side and become Beth’s replacement.
Nina is clearly thrilled and intimidated by this opportunity but what becomes quickly evident is that she’s going to have her work cut out for her breaking out of her frigid, perfect-form-obsessed life. Thomas gives her some useful advice (“Go home and touch yourself.” Classy.) in this area but it’s when she meets the free spirit and overly-sexualized Lily (Mila Kunis), who’s new to the dance company, that she begins her transformation. The depths of that transformation and what it will demand of her, however, are only hinted at early on with hallucinations of tearing her body apart and something inside trying to get out...
Aronofsky is a master of keeping up with characters clearly on the downward spiral and, here, while he has to eventually rely on some special f/x to really drive home what’s happened inside Nina’s head he does it all unrelentingly. Rather than becoming her “almost was” mother, or just another prima donna to get burned out/through (in Beth’s character), or to be completely her own person (Lily), Nina fuses these screaming disparate, jostled personalities into one new creation, one that completely transforms her, one that demands sacrifice but rewards with absolute, full perfection.