A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this dark gothic thriller centers on a dancer (played by Natalie Portman) who's so obsessed with perfection that she’s obliterated by it. Her pursuit is tragic, filled with self-mutilation and fear -- all of it intense material that may prove too much for younger viewers. Expect many disturbing scenes of mental and physical anguish, some violent fights, and a character who hurts herself and purges -- perhaps in response to the pressures she puts herself under. There's also some swearing (including "f--k" and "s--t"), pill-popping, and a few graphic, sexually-charged scenes (including one with bare breasts and another featuring two women).
What's the story?
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) lives for ballet. She’s a beautiful but joyless dancer who's both afraid to fail and afraid to succeed. Her mother (Barbara Hershey), a former dancer, worries that the pressure will break Nina, but she doesn’t recognize how her own vise-like grip on her daughter’s life is harmful, too. When manipulative genius choreographer Thomas (Vincent Cassel) plucks Nina from the corps and gives her the role of the Black Swan in Swan Lake, Nina can almost taste triumph. But immediately, it weighs her down. She’s afraid she won’t live up to Thomas’ expectations. And she’s certain that a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), is after her part, a conviction that strengthens when Thomas makes the other dancer Nina’s understudy. Watching Beth (Winona Ryder), whom Nina herself replaced, self-destruct only serves to emphasize the stakes. Worse, Nina’s demons -- the drive to purge, the need to hurt, and more -- are coming alive.
Is it any good?
BLACK SWAN is danse macabre personified, a grueling, tragic, obsessive and gripping film about a ballerina's quest for perfection at the expense of personality and sanity. Director Darren Aronofsky dances between beauty and blight, juxtaposing familiar ballet images (poised dancers with their lithe limbs and pintucked buns, impossibly balanced on the tips of their pink-shoed toes, silhouetted under the stagelights) with horrific ones (bleeding toenails, bony spines, skin scratched raw). The effect is unsettling, frightening even. Sometimes it all feels a little too much -- thankfully, not often.
The actors are in fine form: Kunis is bold and electrifying; Hershey, disquieting; Cassel, layered. Only Ryder, as a washed-up dancer, wobbles, playing Beth with an assured-yet-predictable touch. But the movie really is Portman’s. Her Nina is devastatingly fearful, dispiritingly fragile. She has command of her body but not her mind, and Portman, committed from first pirouette to the final moment, disappears. Only Nina remains. Cue the best actress awards.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages the movie sends about committing yourself to something. When is focusing on one passion/talent/dream healthy, and when does it go too far?
Do the consequences of the characters' behavior in this movie seem realistic? Have you ever seen anything similar happen to anyone you know?
Is Nina's relationship to ballet healthy? Does the film unmask anything about the world of ballet?
- In theaters: December 3, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: March 29, 2011
- Cast: Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel
- Director: Darren Aronofsky
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use
For kids who love dancing and drama
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.