It's fitting that Darren Aronofsky had to struggle for years to get Black Swan made. A movie about a ballerina's agonizing quest for perfection might seem a little hollow if it were effortlessly cranked out on the Hollywood assembly line; Black Swan, on the other hand, has the marks of a passion project. You can practically see the metaphorical blood oozing from Aronofsky's swollen directorial feet.

Black Swan is a wholly engrossing, almost unbearably tense drama about a fairly mundane thing: backstage anxiety in the performing arts. Countless movies have addressed the same subject, but I feel safe in saying none have addressed it in quite this way. Aronofsky, working from a screenplay by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz, shows a knack for combining genres in a most unsettling fashion. Here you'll find psychological thrills, body horror, sexual awakening, symbolic self-discovery, hallucinatory trickery, and the terrifying calf muscles of ballet dancers, all in one movie.