The agony and ecstasy of Natalie Portman's "Black Swan" is a kind of gothic perfection.
It is her passion play, as much as a performance, born of a long desire to take her acting into the world of ballet that she fell in love with as a child. Perhaps if her dreams had unfolded differently, we might know her as the featured ballerina from one company or another. More likely, we would not know her at all, and the artistic world would be poorer for it.
Certainly there is movie magic in the ritualistic sacrifice of director Darren Aronofsky's film as Portman's prima ballerina suffers stigmatas of ripped skin and sprouting feathers. But there was pain enough of the real kind too. Nine months at the ballet barre before shooting began. Hours in solitary practice, pushing past exhaustion, bruised toes and aching muscles, raising her craft to dizzying heights.
Maybe we would still feel the searing pain of her doomed dancer had she not forced herself to wring the very soul out of her woman-child, but I doubt it. The work pared the body down to nearly nothing, as if her bones themselves were looking to escape the punishing regime she demanded.