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"Black Swan:" An Amazing Thriller

Updated on January 21, 2011

I started this hub because I saw the movie Black Swan and wanted to see what others thought about it and if anyone was of the same mind as I was regarding the movie. I did a search and what I found was disappointing: a bunch of nonsense primarily focused on the lesbian love scene. Maybe I selected crappy search terms, who knows.

Anyway, I would like to share my thoughts on the movie. On a general note, it blew me away. After the final scene, I just sat there, stunned. And I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. It really is a mind-boggler. The film is about ... well, it's hard to say. There's ballet, sex, a crazy mom (maybe), self-mutilation, 3 female characters who all strangely look alike, and some mental illness. The basic idea is that Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a ballet dancer in New York. The group she's with is making big changes by retiring (aka firing) the lead dancer, Beth (Winona Ryder), thereby beginning the process of naming a new primary dancer. Nina, of course, wants to be selected. There - the stage is set.

From the very early scenes it is obvious, and brilliantly portrayed, that the film is from Nina's perspective. The crazy, jiggly camera is somewhat disorienting as it follows her walking the sidewalk, into The Met, but it sets a wonderful tone for the film. Now, I've only seen the movie once, so bear with me on order of scenes. Basically, my first impression is that Nina is a fragile little girl/woman. Her room is filled with pink stuff and stuffed animals. Throughout the film, there are white feathers and on the back of her door is a white feather boa, which she wears wrapped around her neck on her first trip to the theater. The impression is of Nina being an innocent, virginal woman who is symbolic of the white swan. As a dancer, she is technically perfect; however, she lacks the ability to let herself go, which holds her back in regard to appeal. This technical control and lack of emotion in her dancing is indicative of her overall ability to keep herself under wraps - she's tightly wound.

From early in the film, I wondered if Nina had a split personality. I haven't read that anyone else thought this, which was part of my frustration in my online search for discussion. She has strange scratches on her back. She envisions things that aren't there and does things she doesn't remember doing. When her mother sees the scratches, she comments that Nina's started scratching herself again. Again! Right there, I really figured out the repression of a second personality. It makes the fragile timidity of Nina seem somehow contrived, in that we realize she's actually struggling to keep this "dark" being under control. And, for me, that is the real basis of the film.

The director applauds both Beth and Lily for their passionate interpretations in their dancing. In Lily's case, he specifically says that, technically, her dancing falls short, but it is her released emotion that makes her good. And for Beth, he actually speaks of a dark place where her dancing originates and is then wildly displayed on the stage. However, it is this darkness that makes Beth throw herself into oncoming traffic. This is the only part of the film that made me question my position on the split personality. It made me wonder if all artists, good ones anyway, had this dark place. And if so, maybe it was the role that was bringing the black swan out of Nina, not the personality disorder. However, it was the irony of Nina being the opposite of both cases (she's technically perfect and has no dark place-haha) that put me back on track to my original theory.

The company will be performing Swan Lake, the story of a sister (turned swan) betrayed by her twin: white swan, black swan. Virgin girl, dark visceral woman. Many wrote that Nina's struggle begins with the role; I think the role intensifies the split personality, encouraging the "switching" (see webmd article link below) and the projection of this personality on others. Several times throughout the film Nina sees her face on others: on a person passing her on the sidewalk, on Lily during their "encounter," etc. until the point when that personality finally emerges and takes Nina over.

There are several instances in the film where certain characters may or may not exist. In some posts I read, people believe Nina's mother (Barbara Hershey) is merely a figment of Nina's imagination. I disagree - I believe she is real. Really crazy. The webmd article attributes split personality to trauma or other repetitive emotional abuse. I could see how, with this sort of mother, Nina might create an altered personality. Also regarding character real-ness, and I do believe this, Lily is there sometimes and other times is a projection of Nina's. After going out on the town, Nina and Lily come back to Nina's apartment; however, we only see Lily in the mirror and she's finishing Nina's sentences for her. As this precedes their love scene, it is obvious that Nina is fantasizing the sexual encounter. Again, some wrote they thought that she was being double-done by the 2 guys she met in the bar, but I think that's completely unfounded and ignorant. Again, by relying on the split personality basis, the passionate, angry, other Nina is starting to take over and this is the first real opportunity she has had.

The scenes preceding the final climax of the ballet are when we actually see the black swan emerging from Nina. Literally. Black feathers are growing out of her back ... as she's standing at the mirror in her room ... that was next to the white feathers hanging on the door. This whole scene is totally awesome. It is representative of the breaking her mind is going through and again, literally, we see her legs break, symbolizing her inability to control the other persona any longer.

The final sequences are absolutely amazing. Nina's "dark side" has taken over and given her the passion and release she needed to attain perfection. There was a lot of online discussion on the scenes between her and Lily in these sequences. In this case, I think over-analyzing this particular part of the film demeans the overall value. As an audience at this point, you need to simply believe, hold on, and let the story lead you into the crash that is the climax of the film.

I'm not sure I did my thoughts justice here, but I hope you're interested enough to see this film. I haven't seen any of the other women's films who are nominated for a Golden Globe, but as of now, my vote is for Natalie Portman. This was very obviously a demanding role and I thought she was just fabulous. See it! But maybe during the day and not with your grandmother.

Other Aronofsky films


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    • profile image

      holly heston 

      7 years ago

      I think you are definitely right and I also think that Lily was completely an alter of Nina's mind evidenced by Lily's appearance at extreme tense times for Nina and Lily mouthing the exact words that Nina said to her mother when she came home from being in the bar.

    • Cogerson profile image


      7 years ago from Virginia

      Good in depth review of an excellent movie voted thumbs up

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am a mental health therapist and saw this film with a fellow therapist- we both agreed halfway through the movie that Nina suffers from DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder). "Split personality" is not really a term for any mental illness. What was fascinating to me is that I found other posts online from mental health professionals and critics claiming that Nina suffered from schizophrenia. I find this ridiculous. Nina had no symptoms of schizophrenia except possibility psychosis, but I think the dissociation that is part of DID is a better way to explain her behavior. So its Dissociative Identity Disorder- NOT schizophrenia.

    • Manzbestfriend profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Anandha-thanks for the comment. It's nice to know I have a sympatico out there. I appreciate your personal experience as a dancer-thanks for sharing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am a former dancer, now a choreographer of a contemporary company with the unique experience that I did have multiple personalities. You are correct, this film is very straight forward in it's depiction of Nina's multiple personalities. It seems to me that this role (b/w swan) may bring out the first episode of which she is becoming co-conscious. The mother could be real or not. The interesting thing is that many believe Swan Lake is really not about sisters (usually performed by two dancers)... but about multiple personalities. Thus, this movie is even cooler in that art imitates life imitates art.


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