I like ballet. In short snippets at a time anyway. 'The Black Swan' presented enough to show how beautiful ballet is as a form of movement art. But it's also an art that demands pain as a sacrifice. Broken cuticles and ligament damage are par for the course. So is keeping weight off by avoiding food. For Nina Sayer (Natalie Portman), she also has to rely on constant social-life-killing practice to get her moves right, while struggling to grow up from an obsessive and overbearing parent, and maintaining her top billing for opening night.
Not surprisingly, the stress does eventually catch up with her, particularly over her understudy, Lily (Mila Kunis) who is more free-spirited and everything else she is not, traits she observes are more valued by the show's director than just her unwavering dedication to her craft.
Nina's paranoid delusions become increasingly disturbing. And because the camera tends to follow her around from a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective, the audience appears to be a silent, helpless observer dragged through her waking nightmares. We can only watch as her perfectly controlled life and the achievement of her much desired success actually becomes the point where it all spirals downward, and Nina, pretty ballerina, crashes and burns.
It's good to be single-minded, and strive to achieve our goals in life. But 'The Black Swan' is a warning that there is a fine line between dedication and obsession. By sacrificing the development of every other aspect of one's humanity for the sake of perfecting one desired aspect, we lose more than we stand to gain. Or, in other words, work too hard, go crazy. Nothing new there.