Portman's ballerina has no appetite. Niko Tavernise
The Dinner: Mushroom and Swiss Burger and beers at DeLuxe Bar & Grill (625 Broadway).
Portman's ballerina has no appetite. Niko Tavernise
The Screenplate: Located at the same Broadway and Roy corner location for over seven decades, the DeLuxe should not be called the "De Luxe" or the "Deluxe," and the ampersand in its name is always preferable to using the conjunction "and." In its second generation of ownership within the Minsk family, the joint originally opened as a tavern after Prohibition. Six years after it became an eatery (1962), the nearby old Woman's Century Club was converted into the Harvard Exit cinema, creating a perfect dinner/movie combo (provided you can find parking). Alas, this is not exactly how we were able to witness Natalie Portman's ballerina meltdown, as her character gradually loses her mind in pursuit of the starring role in Swan Lake. Instead, we ate at the DeLuxe and then hit Pacific Place for the show. And we cleaned our plate (and drained our pint glasses) before watching a young woman starve herself for art. Feeling unrecognized and underappreciated as a corps dancer, Nina Sayers lobbies for the dual role of the Swan Queen/Black Swan, which triggers a profound split in her personality...
Living with her mother (Barbara Hershey), Nina is a virginal young woman in her early 20s who has probably never experienced a hamburger. No father, no red meat, no boyfriends. A typical meal consists of egg whites and grapefruit; and while she may feign delight at such starvation rations from her mother (a former ballerina who never made it out of the corps), Nina craves blood. So she's startled when her ballet company director (Vincent Cassel) makes a sexual advance toward her. The starring role in Swan Lake is at stake. Nina doesn't know how to respond to his forced kiss. So she bites him, drawing blood, and wins the part with her unexpected violence. Precision and chastity she understands for the role of the Swan Queen; but the seductive, destructive impulses of the Black Swan represent foreign territory to her.
Black Swan isn't a standard ballet movie in the tradition of The Red Shoes or The Turning Point or The Company. And director Darren Aronofsky is no scholar of dance. From Pi to Requiem for a Dream to The Wrestler, he's been intent on the obsessive outcasts of society, the performers/artists/freaks who entertain us with their self-abnegating devotion. The better their craft, the greater their sacrifice. They're the Roman gladiators, and we the cheering mob.
Dancing Swan Lake in New York is a far cry from burgers in Seattle. Aronofsky is intent on the horror, the self-sacrifice of the dancer's art. The bulimia, the broken toes, the protruding backbones and ribs--these are the stigmata of her career path. If Nina is to become a black swan, that means embracing the dark side of her art. Whether the thefts, betrayals, lesbian sex, and stabbings are real or not--that is best left to speculation after the show. Swan Lake is fiction. Burgers are real.
Nina would never eat at the DeLuxe, where ample burgers and promptly delivered drinks prevail. Yet her frenemy/rival (Mila Kunis, That 70s Show) would. Lily is a woman with appetites for food, cigarettes, drugs, and men. Nina still isn't ready for such things, so she concocts a kind of doppelgänger, the Black Swan, who begins to insinuate her way into Nina's prim routine. So while Nina would never order the DeLuxe's tasty mushroom and Swiss burger ($9.25), served with hand-cut fries, the Black Swan surely would. (And she'd order it bloody and rare.)
One of the reliable pleasures to the DeLuxe is its continuity, even after its 1999 expansion. The menu never pushes too far into your wallet; nothing's too fancy; and the beer list isn't so large and complicated that you need to study that side of the menu for more than a glance. It's still got a friendly neighborhood vibe (like the Harvard Exit next door), no matter that much of Broadway is now lined with large condo and apartment blocks. That northern stretch of Cap Hill was low-rise and modest four decades ago, when the DeLuxe flipped to food. Today, the eatery is a bit of a holdout in a neighborhood that, like Nina, has become a dark doppelgänger to its innocent old self.
She, in a sense, is destroyed by her ambition in Black Swan. Or transformed into a more refined being, since the movie takes a suitably ambiguous view toward both ballet and its tormented heroine. Physically, if not mentally, dancers essentially ruin their bodies for their art; almost none perform past 30. (Nina mocks corps dancers approaching that age.) There's a fanatical quest for beauty and transcendence, a theme you'll see in all Aronofsky's work, including the rental-worthy head scratcher The Fountain. This makes Black Swan more of a horror movie than an art film. Nina may be hallucinating her whole ordeal, but Black Swan suggests there's a like insanity in all artistic creation. To be "perfect" (as she keeps repeating), Nina cannot cling to her old notions of sanity and reality. It's just another sacrifice, like those burgers she'll never eat at the DeLuxe.