Natalie Portman collected a coveted Golden Globe award as Best Actress on Sunday for her tour-de-force portrayal of an emotionally fragile ballerina in Black Swan.
She deserves to win the Oscar on February 27 for this career-defining performance that required 10 months of gruelling physical preparation before the cameras started rolling.
All of that incredible will and discipline in the dance studio certainly pays off – not once do we doubt that Portman could perform the demanding solos from Swan Lake that punctuate this psychological drama.
The actress powerfully conveys the disparity between her character’s physical strength and grace, and her mental frailty when insecurities and jealousy steadily gnaw away at her self-confidence.
Director Aronofsky gracefully pirouettes between reality and fantasy as he joins Portman on this mesmerising descent into madness.
He has plumbed some very dark places in his earlier work including Requiem For A Dream, and two years ago he guided Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei to Oscar nominations for The Wrestler.
He should enjoy even greater success with Black Swan, which puts the actors centre stage but still manages to showcase his directorial brio.
Artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) presides over a ballet company at New York’s Lincoln Center, all too aware that his productions have lost their edge.
So he very publicly terminates the services of prima ballerina Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) and chooses Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) as her replacement to lead an erotically charged new staging of Swan Lake.
Nina is technically gifted but she struggles to express her emotions on stage, which causes friction with Thomas, who needs Nina to embrace her dark side if she is ever to play the Black Swan.
Soon after, sensual ballerina Lily (Mila Kunis) is cast as understudy to the lead role and Nina feels threatened, as if the new girl is trying to usurp her.
Harangued by her mother (Barbara Hershey), a former dancer who gave up everything to raise a family, Nina wrestles with fear and paranoia, teetering on the brink of an emotional breakdown.
Black Swan skillfully draws together elements of Aronofsky’s previous films and stokes the tension as we become immersed in this tale of delusions and dreams.
Portman’s fearless lead performance is complimented by a monstrous supporting turn from Hershey and a deliciously ambiguous performance from Kunis.
Cassel radiates a feral sexuality in his scenes with Portman, urging Nina to unleash the temptress within before he regrets his decision to cast her.
Sequences from Swan Lake are dazzlingly choreographed to Clint Mansell’s soundtrack (heavily inspired by Tchaikovsky’s haunting score), making the ballet accessible and thrilling to audiences who are unfamiliar with the story of accursed Odette.
While the heroine of the ballet struggles to take flight, Aronofsky’s film and his leading lady soar.