I’m going to admit right off the bat that I don’t completely understand the ending of Black Swan, although I do have ideas about what may have happened and what it means. The fact is though, it doesn’t bother me that I don’t quite know. Although there are certain movies, actually most, where you want or expect a concrete ending, this isn’t one of them. If you’ve seen the previews, you go in knowing that it’s a psychological thriller about a ballerina who is experiencing a nervous breakdown. Already the stage is set for a struggle between reality and fantasy in the mind of Natalie Portman’s uptight ballet dancer, Nina Sayers who slowly unravels after she gains the lead in Swan Lake.

Nina’s insecurities are heightened by the arrival of a dancer new to the company, Lily played by Mila Kunis, who is both sensual and free-spirited, everything Nina is not according to the company’s manipulatively effective artistic director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). Natalie Portman takes you inside the mind of a dancer obsessed as she attempts to transcend into the zone where artistic technique and passion meld into greatness. Nina is desperately afraid of failure and with good reason. It’s nice to see Winona Ryder on screen again as Beth, the cast off aging dancer who represents the ghost of one possible future for Nina.

The mother daughter relationship is usually one fraught with tensions and contradictions and the one between Nina and her mother, Erica an ex-dancer herself, is no exception. The dynamic between the two is intense and Barbara Hershey does a great job of personifying Erica’s creepy clinginess and dysfunctional mix of love and jealousy for her daughter.

The story works on a number of levels and that’s part of what makes it intriguing and relatable. It’s the artistic struggle of a dancer, but really any artist, that is fighting to fully realize their art and potential. It’s the evolution of a young woman’s sexual awareness, a daughter separating from her mother and becoming an individual in her own right, the ill-fated pursuit of perfection and finally the desire to achieve wholeness by pushing and transforming oneself. What does it all mean? Maybe that in the end in order to become your true self you first have to let go regardless of where that may lead.

Recommendation: See in Theater

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