Black Swan - overcoming fears or how parents can cripple their children

Black Swan - Natalie Portman
Black Swan - Natalie Portman

Horror films - entertainment or a sign of alarm?

Being interested in psychology, I would like to write about the situation of Nina in the movie in terms of visual fears, their causes and how Nina deals with them.
Some of us love horror movies and take them as an entertainment. Is this addiction really healthy or does it testimony some of the inner unresolved problems? I believe that we do come on Earth with a special mission. It can be about developing our skills and potential. It can be about teaching other people what we have learned. It can be about helping others in this or that way. Finally, it is all about living a full and meaningful life. Or, there is another way, less fortunate. That of a constant struggle with unhealed childhood traumas. “Black Swan” makes part of these thrillers that, viewed from a psychological point of view, can explain some of the person’s inner unsolved problems.
This is an uneasy task to write about the negative aspects of the modern society. The 20th century has known a great number of suicides, depressions, drugs and many other side effects of modern civilization. While modern life has brought a lot of comfort and technical progress, the problems related to education and maturing as well as social adaptation stay in a shadow. Can we find some answers in psychology?
Sometimes parents, without even being aware of it, create certain life scenarios for their children. Sometimes a mother would play a leading role in a family and spoil her potentially spiritual daughter with material pleasures, while a father would go to the backstage. Sometimes a mother would prefer a career while her daughter would take displeasure and have a hidden or not hidden rage against her. Parents are first people responsible for all the potential of their children, and first teachers who would show how to adjust to life and socialize. Yet, there are so many broken destinies, so many unrealized adults, clinging to their childhood scenarios.

Black Swan
Black Swan

Successful ballerina, or

Nina’s mother is a failed ballet dancer who wants her daughter to become a famous ballerina. Without even knowing it, Nina’s destined to be the part of the ballet. She is supposed to become a professional ballet dancer and become well-known. Nina consecrates all her time to the training in a ballet school. Her technique is good and thanks to this she can pretend to be in the leading role in "Swan Lake”. The producer of the piece even introduces Nina to the ballet elite as the new diva. Everything seems to work fine for Nina. Her career of a high class ballerina starts flourishing.
However, what we observe in the movie is not a happy realized ballerina but a young infantile woman haunted by her own childhood fears. Her fears are visual, and besides, she has some masochist tendencies related to irrational self-control and limitations.
Nina’s childhood is not shown in the movie, but, apparently, her mother who could not accomplish herself in the ballet, and who blames her daughter constantly for the fact (“I chose YOU instead of my career”), tries to satisfy her desire by making Nina the way she wanted to be. Alongside with this, her mother cripples Nina as personality.

Black Swan - Nina's Fear
Black Swan - Nina's Fear

Natural visual fear

On the first sight, the film looks like a usual spooky. Natalie Portman interprets with a great talent Nina’s state of fear and visual hallucinations. As we penetrate her imaginary world filled with horror we realize that what she lives through is not a mystification but her own fantasies and, in a way, her own distorted reality.
Being already a grown-up woman, Nina lives with her mother, and her room is done in pink tones and flooded with toys. Her mother nurses Nina before the young woman goes to sleep and makes a ballerina doll dance for Nina. Nina is all ballet-oriented and besides, exuberantly taken care of. Finally, Nina’s social skills have not developed, and she is still filled with natural fears.
When Nina faces a stressful situation, she cannot handle it, and starts having hallucinations: she imagines her toes sticking together, her skin getting off. Horror pictures keep pursuing Nina when she stays alone in her room: blood, darkness, living mirror reflexion, monster...
Visual fears are very present all along the movie. For example, natural visual fear of darkness: Nina is scared by her own mirror reflexion.

Black swan - having hallucinations
Black swan - having hallucinations

Total parental control

Total motherly control leads to the fact that the girl stays totally unskilled in her social behavior. She doesn’t talk to anybody, she lives in the world of her own. No friends, no boyfriend, nowhere to go. The whole Nina’s life consists of repetitions and is limited by the walls of the theater and her own home. The girl who is over-controlled by her mother cannot adapt in the surroundings. Her mother keeps on calling Nina, demanding her to do the same thing, she makes her daughter observe the strict regime all the time. The Mother checks on every Nina’s step. The privacy is out of the question for Nina. Nina’s body for her mother is like an object of a property. Nina’s future is not discussed - it is evident for her mother that she must become a ballerina.
To obey is as an important social skill as to make others obey. Nina only knows how to obey. Nina can only obey her mother and do all the commands. Nina has no idea of what a socially realized personality looks like, and constantly controls herself. She is not able to relax. The undeveloped personality reveals itself in some masochist tendencies: Nina scratches herself till blood appears on her skin.

Black swan - Nina scratching herself to blood
Black swan - Nina scratching herself to blood

Unadapted surroundings

Nina can hardly stand the stress and outside pressure related to the rehearsal of the spectacle. She is not able to handle the surroundings with their competition and survival struggle. There are rivals, envious people, the producer critisizes Nina for her coldness. Nina takes it as a real stroke that Lily, her rival, is titled to the same role as a bench-warmer. Thomas can see that Lily is able to play the sensuality better than Nina. He even attacks Nina verbally.
Visual fears, total control over herself, frustrated sexuality - all this prevents Nina from performing a really sensual dance of a black swan. Frustrated by the stress and the upcoming events, Nina commits a theft - that is, she steals Lily’s personal things. This asocial behaviour marks her once again as an unripe person.

Black Swan - Professional (but not personal) success
Black Swan - Professional (but not personal) success

Too late....

Finally Nina becomes aware that she needs to relax and to let it go. Following the advice of Thomas, she tries to explore her body. But the presence of her mother sleeping in her room stops her. It is not quite clear though if the presence of her mother is real or imaginary. Anyway, all this shows that Nina cannot simply get rid of her mother’s control and have some intimacy. When Lily comes to visit Nina and calls her to go to the bar together, Nina for the first time ever disobeys her mother. She tries to overcome her fears but at this time she is an adult person and has lost a lot of time of her life...
Nina gives a spectacular performance, both sensual and technically mastered. But can she overcome her fears and problems?

Special thanks to Polina Cupko and Yuri Burlan.

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© 2011 Anna Sidorova

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