Black Swan is a masterpiece of a movie. It is centred around a ballerina named Nina, who are raised by a mother who seem to love her more as a ballerina than as a person. She is young and up and coming, so when the studio decides to set up Swan Lake, she goes for the lead role as the Swan Queen.
If you are like me, Swan Lake is the only ballet you have heard of, and you don't know the details, but the movie soon get you up to speed. The central part of Swan Lake is that the fragile and innocent white swan falls in love, but her twin the black swan seduces him. The black swan and the white swan are to be played by the same ballerina, and this is where Nina has a problem. For an inverted lady who still lives with her mother, she is perfect for the fragile white swan, but she lacks the ability to cut lose and dance the lustrous black swan. However, even though she did not nail the black swan at the audition, the teacher sees potential in her and gives her the role.
The movie is shaped by the characters in the story. While they have very distinctive personalities, none of them seem unrealistic. The teacher has a reputation for being intimate with his ballerinas, and you can see how he would get such a reputation, but he is still a tad better than people think. The rival ballerina whose personality and dancing styIe suits the black swan perfectly is not as b****y as you would expect and even the very unlikeable mother does surprise me in a positive way at one point - not in an unrealistic "oh-so-now-she-is-suddenly-nice" way, but still in a positive way. Another important character is Beth, the former and now falling star, who is somehow a role model for Mina, but she is also a source of anxiety as an example of how Nina could end up.
(This is Beth before things get ugly)
But it is Nina herself (played by Nataly Portman) who is the most important character. A central theme of the movie is Nina's struggle for perfection. From the technically flawless dancing to her nearly flawless body. "Nearly" because of a rash on her back - the first sign that Nina's psychological state might not be what it should be. As the pressure keeps piling up, Nina's problems escalate into more and more serious hallucinations until it starts bordering to a horror movie. The special effects are so well made I have never seen it done as well. Mainly because it seems to be more motivated by illustrating the psychological aspect of the story than to look cool. Every effect has a purpose and adds a little bit to the story.
In the end it builds up to a great climax as the premiere draws closer and the hallucinations get to the point that Nina start losing a sense of what is real and what is not. There are some great moments when something I thought actually happened turned out not to have, and even after the movie is over there is one particular scene which I can't quite figure whether was true or false and it bugs me a lot.
SPOILERS IN THE REST OF THE PARAGRAPH! There is a scene where Beth suddenly starts stabbing herself in the face with a nail file and Nina runs away, then afterwards you see Nina holding the file, which is covered in blood. Afterwards I'm pretty sure Beth stabbing herself was a hallucination, but I can't tell whether Nina attacked Beth or if the part about the bloody nail file also was just her imagination
But the point is that it builds up to a magnificent finale and absolutely nails it, from the special effects to the dramatic Swan Lake theme. The movie itself has a philosophic question in the background, which is how far you will go to really achieve perfection and to what extent achieving strong art might come at the cost of your own destruction. As it stands, it is my favourite movie from 2010 and one I would highly recommend.