The story: A psychological, black-hearted thriller set in the Manhattan world of Lincoln Center's New York City Ballet.
First, ballet is hard, hard work--if you don’t believe me search out the photo of Rudolph Nureyev’s feet (taken by Richard Avedon) and his great toe (seemingly larger than Vincent Cassel’s nose) in the en pointe position, or on toe-tip. By-the-by, Rudolf Nureyev, probably one of the greatest male dancers who could do proper ballet, left money for the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation dedicated to dancers and their health problems.
Second, our heroine Nina (Natalie Portman), if she was dancing professionally, would not shortly be over the hill at the age of 29 (some reviewers have been impressed by her physical condition at that age), especially as Dame Margot Fonteyn, the woman still classed as the greatest ballerina of all time, retired from the ballet stage at the age of 55. She and Nureyev (he half her age) were considered a beautiful pairing of style and theatrical wit.
Third, few so-called intellectual horror flicks have ever pulled their toes, I mean punches, so early into the movie. When we enter Nina’s bedroom we are treated to a space so over-stuffed with toy animals, feather duvets, frilly curtains, puffy pillows, flouncy rugs, and scattered frou-frous so full of fluff, that when we see the huge black floral silouhettes on the bed pillows, we know that Nina has mental problems. But then we enter the bedroom of Erica (Barbara Hershey), Nina’s mother, and find it a candled shrine to mom’s once great, but then abandoned, ballet career when she had to retire in order to birth Nina. The only thing missing at that point is plentiful blood-but that shows up later.
Nina is, of course, disturbed, and we soon find she is scratching her back with such fervor (at the two spots where if she grew wings, the wings would sprout), result in her fingernails being cut by mom with such force you can hear them hit the floor.
Now the director and quasi-ballet master, Thomas Le Roy (Vincent Cassel), has a nose of such proportion (it can best be described as also being en pointe) is a cad! Good heavens, what a surprise! Here’s a man who always sleeps with his protégées but in Nina’s case, it’s necessary because Nina's dancing in a new production of Swan Lake, where the heroine instead of just being a fairy swan of the white caliber, has a twin who is the erotic fulfillment of evil, the Black Swan. Tom feels that Nina is great as a virgin, but falls terribly short of the sexual content necessary to be sexually black.
In order to join the ballet club, Nina must grow up and experience all those great things like drugs, sex, then sexual experimentation, not to mention dirty dancing, apparently in this script, overnight, so she is capable to be a slutty ballerina.
The film is stylishly shot, and the ballet scenes are extremely well staged but nobody at Lincoln Center or Broadway would ever countenance a ballet that splits Tchaikovsky’s classic into two heroines, one good, one bad.
A suggestion: To recover from this abysmal batch of a ballet balsamic brew, go to Netflix and get the original "The Red Shoes."