New York ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is fixated on playing the Swan Queen in her company's production of Swan Lake. The coveted dual role, encompassing both the White and Black Swans, demands a dancer with a fragile, naïve side, but also a powerful sexual allure. While exacting dance teacher Thomas (Vincent Cassel) sees the qualities of the White Swan within Nina, he doubts her ability to transform into its bold alter ego.
As Nina devotes herself to a punishing training schedule, to her horror, a new dancer arrives on the scene. Her polar opposite, laid-back Lily (Mila Kunis) displays exactly the persona Nina is striving for, and immediately catches Thomas's eye. With Nina's suffocatingly possessive mother (Barbara Hershey) keeping her in a repressed, almost childlike, state, she is prevented from accessing the qualities she needs to win her dream role. As Thomas pushes Nina's buttons in an attempt to unleash her inner-Black Swan, her psyche becomes increasingly fragile, as her dark side come frighteningly to the fore.
Portman gives the performance of her career in Darren Aronofsky's dazzlingly unhinged masterpiece. Portraying the delicate unravelling of Nina's mind with the poise of a prima ballerina, Portman's committed turn fully warranted her Oscar and BAFTA wins.
In a film packed with strong female roles, the perfectly cast Kunis displays bags of star quality in her best performance to date. Hershey, meanwhile, is superbly sinister, and Winona Ryder pops up in a minor but unforgettable role as Thomas's bitter former protégée.
True to form, Aronofsky's chilling psychological drama is designed to disgust and enthral in equal measure.
Containing bold elements of body horror, the contentious director challenges his audience with some nauseating scenes destined to etch themselves onto the memory. Crucially, however, there is a satisfyingly complex character study behind the intoxicating visuals that leaves you with just as many questions as answers.