Natalie Portman, Black Swan: Aronofsky’s Female Fixation Continues

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Since late Tuesday night, when the haunting trailer for Darren Aronofsky’s bleak Black Swan first launched online, the Web has been grappling with a whole new look for Natalie Portman – a scarier, sexier shade than we’ve ever seen. Behold.

Reportedly in the works since 2000, the story features Portman as a New York ballet star, cast as the lead in an upcoming production of Swan Lake. But everything starts to spiral downward when a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), begins winning over the company’s director.

Portman starts to freak, and then turns this anxiety on herself, as her reality begins to skew out of control: Is Lily real, or a figment of her fractured imagination? Near the end of the trailer, there’s a particularly haunting moment when Portman, sporting bloodshot eyes, digs a small black feather out of her back. Was she attacked? Did her mother lash out at her? Has she done this to herself? Audiences will find out at the Venice Film Festival, where Black Swan is the opening-night selection. But the frail, confused Portman reminded us of a whole slate of conflicted women from Aronofsky’s best films.

Most memorably, there was Ellen Burstyn, in Requiem for a Dream, playing a lonely, weight-obsessed woman who becomes addicted to diet pills before slowly losing her mind. The performance won Burystn an Oscar nomination and was the heartbreaking cornerstone of a soul-crushing film, in which a son agonizes over the fact that he cannot help his mom.

In the same movie, there was also Jennifer Connelly, as the young woman with a bright future who, in her rush to make a quick buck, falls off the cliff of drug addiction. There’s brutal stuff in the movie, but this might be the most haunting moment of all – a conversation between two lost souls in which, just for a fleeting moment, they pretend things aren’t as bad as they really are.

Then there was The Fountain, the trippy, transcendent sci-fi romance that spanned 1,000 years, featuring Rachel Weisz (in the present) as an ailing, increasingly aloof wife who is falling victim to a brain tumor. Husband Hugh Jackman spends his life trying to create a drug for immortality, to bring her back.

And most recently, with The Wrestler, the buzz may have surrounded Mickey Rourke, but the story’s real catalyst was its two women: Marisa Tomei, as the fiery stripper Rourke fawns over, and Evan Rachel Wood, as Rourke’s estranged daughter. While both women flirt with the notion of letting Rourke into their lives, the wrestler’s life seems to be on the rebound. But when they push him out again, he enters a tailspin, leading to the dark, ambiguous finale in which Tomei pleads fruitlessly with the heart-diseased wrestler not to get back into the ring.

Throughout Aronofsky’s career, these confident, conflicted females have guided the way. Now add Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis to the list. Black Swan is set to open Dec. 1.

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