Ballet is supposed to be beautiful. Combining music with dance to tell a story. In the hands of Darren Aronofsky it's a metaphor for a woman's descent into madness. In BLACK SWAN, Aronofsky takes the legendary story of Swan Lake and turns it on its head. Natalie Portman so desperately wants to be both the White Swan and the Black Swan that it's literally tearing her apart. But she doesn't have far to go. Thanks to her alternately doting and prodding stage mother, expertly played by Barbara Hershey, Portman's Nina is already several dancers short of a full company. The girl has no self-confidence thanks to her mother's obsessive attentions. She's already losing her grip when she's selected to play the Swan Queen by the director (Vincent Cassel) who wants her to let go of herself. Well, Portman does. This is the best work she's ever done. She's both the frightened child and the woman slipping into madness. Aronofsky gives you a feeling for her desperation like no other director could. I'm sure Portman will be among the five nominees for Best Actress come Oscar time and she owes it all to Aronofsky. One of my friends described BLACK SWAN as a ballet horror movie. However you describe it, it's well worth your time. — Alan Yudman

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