Plot and Analysis
Black Swan is about striving for perfection, and the lengths to which one might go to achieve it.
The movie starts at a ballet company in New York City, which is holding auditions for Swan Lake. Nina; a ballerina that works at the company; has dreamed of playing the role of the Swan Queen her whole life. She auditions and manages to perfect the performance of the White Swan; virginal and innocent. Yet she fails to embody the identity of the Black Swan; evil, dark and passionate.
She has perfect technique, which until then had been enough to mask the absence of passion.
Nina is able to portray the White Swan because she is the White Swan. Over the years, her strive for greatness and perfection has taken the place of adulthood, trapping her in a state of permanent, crippling innocence.
We are told that at the age of 28, she is not only a virgin, but has repressed any sense of sexuality and desire. She is quite literally the perfect choice for the pure, virginal White Swan.
Nina’s mother refuses to let her daughter grow up, which we can see through the crowd of stuffed animals, the irritating baby talk, and the nauseatingly pink bedroom walls. Nina’s mother is a critically important part of the story. She shows us why Nina is the way that she is.
Her mother is a former ballerina whose career was cut short by her pregnancy. This leads to some repressed anger that leads to her becoming a “stage mom” of sorts, yet still ensuring that Nina doesn’t ever develop enough self-confidence and freedom that she is able to survive on her own. This shows us that at least some of Nina’s motivation is rooted in the fact that she doesn’t want to end up like her mother. She is a living example of what could happen if she isn’t perfect enough.
This may also suggest why her mother insists on treating her like a child. She doesn’t want her daughter to fail. However, it can also suggest jealousy. Her daughter is achieving things she couldn’t. We see this already toxic and abusive relationship worsen as Nina achieves more and more success.
Throughout the movie, we see Nina shed her child-like innocence in favour of a more dangerous lifestyle.
This all leads to Nina slowly descending into madness. Eventually, this insanity reaches the level of self destruction where she begins taking drugs, imagines having sex with strangers, and murders her predecessor.
As she adopts these dangerous habits, her mother attempts to control her, trying to stop her from growing up. However, when Nina slams her mother’s hand in a door, it seems to be her final step to breaking free.
Increasingly, through the film, Nina sees a dark, menacing doppelgänger of herself. Following her; taunting her; almost torturing her. This is symbolic of the fact that as she continues to self-destruct, she is increasingly becoming her own worst enemy.
By opening night, she has reached the pinnacle of her madness. After she finishes the first act, as the White Swan, she sees Lily; her understudy; sitting in her dressing room dressed as the Black Swan. Lily then threatens to take the role of the Swan Queen away from her, so Nina kills her in a fit of rage. However, soon after, Nina discovers that she hasn’t actually killed Lily- she has stabbed herself. The ultimate form of self destruction.
Lily’s presence was simply a personification of the Black Swan that Nina felt she needed to emulate. Lily was never actually in the dressing room. It’s a battle between the White Swan and the Black Swan. Nina, being the White Swan which she is coincidentally (maybe not a coincidence) dressed as; and Lily, who she sees dressed as the Black Swan.
The Use of Mirrors
Mirrors are abundantly placed throughout the movie; from the ballet studio, to her home, to the train station; Darren Aronofsky is determined to show us scenes of Nina staring at herself. What does this mean exactly? She looks in the mirror, yet doesn’t see herself. She’s staring at a version of herself that she doesn’t recognise.
The mirrors are also instrumental at the climax of the movie. In the scene where she kills Lily, she slams her into a dressing room mirror; and the shard of glass that eventually injures Nina comes from the same mirror. Once again symbolising that her destruction stems from a reflection of herself.
The Black Swan
Nina is injured, but the show must continue. She dances through the final act, and we see her grow black wings as she completes her transformation into the Black Swan.
As she receives a standing ovation, we see Nina fall to the ground bleeding. She says, “It was perfect,” before the screen fades to white.It is left up to the viewer to decide Nina’s fate. Did she kill herself; or did she kill a version of herself, finally embracing her darkness? Does it even matter since either way she is already dead?
She achieved perfection, but at what cost? She lost her life. She lost herself.
This begs the question, is it necessary to kill the White Swan before we can embrace the Black Swan? Can we rid ourselves of the White Swan without losing ourselves completely?
The Use of Colour
The use of colour in this film to show the mental state and emotions of the characters is very prominent. When we meet Nina at the beginning, she is dressed exclusively in pink and white. Simply another indication of her pure, infantile mindset.
As she slowly begins to rebel and embrace the darkness within herself, it is reflected in her clothing choice as she switches to wearing darker colours.
Meanwhile, to contrast the purity of Nina’s character, both Lily and her mother are dressed in black. It’s seems to symbolise that in Nina’s perspective, they are the antagonists in different ways. Her mother is what keeps her trapped as what she is, and Lily represents who she can’t be.
When we see Nina wear grey, it represents her moral ambiguity at that point in the plot.
As I watched this film, I felt as if I was descending into madness with her. I don’t know much about film theory, but I feel that the incredibly precise details and close-up camera angles were included to make the viewer feel trapped in the claustrophobic world of perfection that the main character lives in. Either that, or the close-ups were used to disguise the fact that Natalie Portman is not a professional dancer.
I watched this movie 3 times, and I still managed to notice new, minute details that I missed the previous time. A perfect horror movie. One of my absolute favourites.
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Thank You For Reading!
Until Next Time.