‘Black Swan’ nearly achieves perfection

Scott Viau

The quest to be perfect takes center stage in Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” a film about jealousy, betrayal and the fabric that holds the seams of reality together. While the audience may know more than the lead character, it’s watching her tragic fall that makes “Swan” one of Aronofsky’s best.

In a revamped production of “Swan Lake,” the lines between reality and fantasy blur for Nina Sayers (Portman), as she desperately tries to perform the role of The Swan Queen perfectly. Standing in her way is Lily (Kunis), whom Nina views as one of her main competitors, along with an overbearing mother and a seducing teacher. If Nina is to reach the perfection she strives for, she may have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

While I’m not a huge fan of Portman normally, her performance here is spell-binding and heartbreaking. She brings an almost childlike sensitivity to her role, as well as a truly disturbed dark side. And watching her straddle those lines is half the fun. Proving that she’s more than just the vapid character she played on “That ‘70s Show,” Mila Kunis holds her own with Portman well. Her character is the embodiment of everything Nina feels she lacks in her dancing. The sexual tension (and then release) between these two characters is palpable, to say the least. Even Winona Ryder, whose screen time could be reduced to merely an extended cameo, is pitch perfect in her role as the former lead dancer.  Seeing her on the big screen after an extended absence made me remember how much I enjoy her in the first place.

Most of Darren Aronofsky’s films, while about wildly different subjects, all have the same theme at heart, which is the obsession over something that nearly, or completely, destroys them. It’s because of this that we’ve been able to see people at their lowest lows, while they might consider them their highest highs. There’s a deep humanity in Aronofsky’s films and “Black Swan” is no different.

“Swan” would actually make a great double feature with Aronofsky’s earlier film, “The Wrestler.” While some people may not find many things in common between wrestling and ballet, the passion and dedication that both of the main characters give is indicative of the lengths they will go to achieve their dreams.

Throughout the film, Aronofsky uses mirrors to increase the tension of the fight going on inside Nina’s mind. The themes of duality and doppelgangers come into play often as the audience starts to question Nina’s mental state as much as she does. However, with a mirror in nearly every scene, the audience is bashed over the head with these themes, as if we’re not smart enough to catch on to what Aronofsky is up to.

Matthew Libatique’s cinematography makes the audience feel as if they are on stage performing the ballet along with the dancers. The camera weaves through the company, dancing along with them. The editing of the film that is able to bring across both Nina’s madness and insecurity is superb, as well as the dancing scenes. The finale of the film is deep and meaningful as Nina finally becomes what she has strived and sacrificed for. Borrowing from “Swan Lake,” the score of the film highlights Nina’s descent into madness as well as the pain she goes through to achieve her idea of perfection.

“Black Swan” is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year. It has intrigue, passion, mystery, suspense and beautiful ballet scenes. Those who think “Swan” will be boring because it’s about dancing definitely don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. It’s a film that’s worth checking out and multiple viewings will be rewarded.