How do you solve a problem like Aronofsky? His films are so full of vim and tricksiness, but precious little humanity (Mickey Rourke's fighter in The Wrestler perhaps being the exception).
And this is the third time the film-maker has cinematically tortured his lead actress. Jennifer Connelly and Ellen Burstyn were tormented in his deeply unpleasant, nihilistic Requiem for a Dream, and now it's Natalie Portman's turn as the neurotic, hugely driven ballerina Nina Sayers, who lives with Erica (the always wonderful Barbara Hershey), her deranged mother and a former dancer herself.
Nina is fixated with bagging the lead role in the New York City ballet's exciting new version of Swan Lake, but the company's ripe artistic director (Vincent Cassel) isn't convinced she has the requisite sexual menace and wickedness to play the Black Swan. He encourages Nina with homework assignments such as "go home and touch yourself", and insists that he doesn't "want there to be any boundaries between us". You didn't get this sort of kinkiness in The Red Shoes, and Black Swan isn't really a dance picture at all, but an unsavoury, and regularly baffling, psychological horror.
Portman gives it her all – which mainly involves wearing a pained expression throughout – but the best performances here are from Mila Kunis as her saucy rival, and Hershey as the damaged "Mommie Dearest". Plus, a rather poignant turn from Winona Ryder.