Black Swan (2010)

Granted, everyone has been posting mini-theoretical/semi-critical essay posts of Black Swan.

My personal favourite is the one posted by Tavi over at

Aside from that, the rest dwell on ramblings about how alouf the whole film is, and how it borderlines on horror fantasy.

My approach (more than likely is based on my Psychology background).

Firstly and foremost, the film does commence slowly, but you have a deep appreciation as you have time to absorb each character and who they are. The characters seem somewhat black and white in their personal evolution, for example Thomas (the company director played by Vincent Cassel) is aggressive, impatient, frustrated and a womaniser all in one. There's no gentle-side to him, there is just, shall we call it tolerance - to an extent. As long as his agenda is fulfilled, be it sexual or artistic, he is content.

Lily (Mila Kunis) on the other hand is participating in a somewhat hedonistic pursuit (as is everyone else but we'll get to that in a moment) as she is revealed to be openly sexual, and enjoys - living her life and it is the 'living' that pleases her most. She eats what many ballerinas may stay clear from (i.e a greasy bloody hamburger), she smokes, she experiments with drugs, she is somewhat sexually promiscuous. All in all, she dances 'ok' in terms of technique but that is easily dismissed because her sensuality and beauty permit her flawed dancing to be overlooked, simply because she captivates the audience.

Erica Sayers (Nina's mother, referred to as 'Mommy') is a complete mess. She's a woman stuck in a permanent depression and in a state of denial as she overprotects her daughter by trying to preserve a childhood innocence in Nina to avoid any mistakes. This one assumes is the way to control what happens to Nina, as Erica fell pregnant at twenty seven and had to 'end' her dancing career early because of it. It's a safe assumption that her attempt to preserve Nina in the mental state of a twelve year old is a way of sheltering her from sexuality, and from the experimentation that adolescents and adults encounter in life. This conflicting issue begins to press on strongly as Nina begins to assert herself as being 21 and not 12.

Nina Sayers, the star (Natalie Portman) well, she is played as a twelve year old. You see her form of expression and her mannerisms project that of a pleasantly well-trained child, only she isn't a child anymore. Upon auditioning for the role of Swan Queen in Swan Lake, Nina is found in a conflicting position as she is pushed by Thomas to exert her inner sexual self as to allow herself to seduce the audience through her portrayal of the Black Swan. However, how can she? If she isn't exactly aware of her own sensuality nor does she project a sexual person, how could she? She is a child trapped in a woman's body. As far as anyone else is concerned she's a-sexual and that's that.

Upon being chosen for the lead role, one begins to notice cunning stage design and costume design symbolism emerge, only those who pay attention will see it. For example Lily and Nina come face to face 'officially' in the bathroom of an event and Lily is wearing all black - we all know how sensual black is, I need not dwell on this point (and removing her underwear before jetting back to her beau) and Nina is wearing all white, a symbol of purity. Thomas' apartment is all black and white and he is dressed in a completely black tux, a symbol of the evil dark lord perhaps who tries to seduce the pure swan princess?

The evolution of Nina's character is intriguing and intensifies as the stress and pressure increases, she begins having hallucinations, becomes paranoid, injures herself or has visions of inflicting herself harm. She has dreams that play out her sexual ego which conflict with her daily state of mind and it is after she hangs out with Lily and pops a pill to 'roll' that her darker side emerges.

Encapsulated with beautiful symbolism many people may appreciate this film on its surface value but like I said, I wanted to embed a somewhat deeper appreciation.

The paragraph I wrote above describes in a somewhat shallow form, the symptoms of a psychotic-schizophrenic disorder (less say if this were an arbitrary diagnosis). It's commonly known (and if you do not believe me, simply look up some research papers on PsychInfo) that individuals of weaker personalities who are submitted to high-stress situations may develop schizophrenia because the mind cannot cope or simply because it's triggered a genetic subliminal condition and simply assisted in its' manifestation. [Try make note of little things like, wearing her hair out instead of in a tight neat bun, wearing makeup, becoming more aware of herself as a woman rather than as a dancer].

Nina has more hallucinations and becomes highly paranoid as the opening night approaches (and the stress increases) - it's been shown that experimenting with narcotics whilst experiencing these symptoms can trigger a full blown psychotic episode. Nina does undertake this pattern - it's a text book aggravated episode which plays out towards the end of the film. She has a full scale psychotic episode and upon regaining her seldom senses, she realises what has happened.

Many may argue she has developed a split personality disorder, a black swan to release her inner sexuality and suppressed womanly self and a white swan to preserve her childhood innocence. (United States of Tara anyone?)

It could even be suggested the film illustrates classical Freudian theory of the conflicting Id and Superego, basic animal instincts fighting against our socially acquired decorum.

That's the wonderful and treacherous thing about Psychology and Psychiatry, the diagnostics are incredibly arbitrary and this was the main problem I had with this area of science/medicine. You cannot actually see what your patient sees, you cannot trust in what they trust because it can and often is distorted.

I won't spoil the ending for you all, even though I'd like to by continuing my little rant, but I thought I'd point it out as many people may not be aware of this and it just creates a deeper appreciation of the director and Natalie's performance (granted she's a Psych Major at Harvard so she has background knowledge aswell).

I do applaud Darren Aronofsky and if I had the chance to sit down over coffee to talk to him about his film techniques, his way of telling stories (yes I loved 'Requiem for a Dream' too) I'd be very grateful and in a daze!

Note I did not discuss the lesbian scene between the co-stars because I think it pointless, if you've seen the film you'll notice I've made reference to it in this review.

Winona plays a perfect Beth (MacBeth style) - I thought that was very clever but since her role in the film is somewhat minor and more or less is used as a way of Nina justifying her endless pursuant to 'perfection' I found it more fitting if I were discussing the entire plot rather than discussing character evolution.

Beth, in any sense has strong issues of her own and it seems like in a world full of artistic fantasy there's nowhere for anyone to grasp on reality as everyone is intensely focused on projecting and portrayal illusions of another self. I felt Winona played on a more drastic interpretation of Susanna from Girl Interrupted.

Words that are used as connectors throughout the film, literally or in reference of their connotation: Lose yourself; Perfection; I'm Sorry; Control.

Images sourced from Je-Vue & Captured Grace Music


  1. Thank you for the amazing review! What an insight! Now I really can't wait to see the film!


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