Black Swan - Scene / Acts analysis
Black Swan Analysis
The film opens with the sound of Swanlake, introducing us to the classical world of ballet.
Then from a black screen we are introduced to the white swan ballerina. An indication the film is about the contrast between light and dark of life and people.
We are introduced to a darker ballet dancer, who turns into the black swan. He almost wrestles with the white swan. Finally she appears to come through the ordeal to emerge into the light, which sign posts the journey of the main character that is about to happen, seeking the freedom her character craves.
We meet Nina, a ballet dancer, an angelic looking student of dance who goes through her daily ritual. Her character is dedicated enough to go through the tough routine of cracking joints. She sounds naïve as she explains her dream to be a success. She aims high like a young child, as her dreams reveal. She wants to play the lead in Swan Lake. A theme of the movie is about pursuit of perfection, embracing both sides of your personality and the cost of that.
Nina sits with her Mum and they are obviously close but it is an unhealthy closeness for a grownup girl. They discuss Nina’s career and her dedication. Her Mum is over protective and pushes Nina to reach her goal. Her Mum wraps her in cotton wool and lives her life through her daughter.
Nina travels on the tube. She spots another dancer, her rival who is introduced later, as the antagonist. The woman unnerves Nina even at this early part of the film. Nina appears childlike to her surroundings.
Nina and the other dancers prepare themselves in the dressing room. They prove to be the competition and obstacles Nina has to overcome to achieve her goal. The other dancers discuss Beth, who used to be the star of the company but who is getting older. The dancers consider her too old now. This highlights the competiveness of the other dancers with a nastier, adult side to them. Unlike Nina, who sits away from them unwilling to take part in the adult conversations, isolated in her own world.
Beth highlights the theme of perfection. She is someone who has grown up and reached the top. But it has come at a cost and has not given her the freedom that Nina thinks success will bring. Beth is shown as unbalanced.
Nina as the naïve apprentice has a rose coloured view of Beth and admires her talent and willing to overlook her faults. She is like a child looking up to her idol. Beth is what Nina aspires to be and thinks it is down to Beth’s talent and that the same talent will get Nina there.
The dancers talk about the new direction of the company and the suggestion that the director sleeps with his star dancers. This is a forewarning what is to come and the character of the Director. Nina only sees the talent in the Director in her childlike outlook.
The director character is a man of two sides, but balanced. He is the love interest and becomes the Prince in the Swan Lake Story and offers Nina the chance. Questions that arise in the film; do we have a good and bad side, white and black swans within us? Do we need to show our bad side in order to be successful?
Nina sticks up for Beth and her dancing. She is clearly morally above them and as she wants to, become the star attraction. She does not want people to put Beth down because she is like her with talent and it is her dream to be like her and what she perceives as freedom.
Dancers are interrupted by the arrival of a new American girl who breezes in late. She is a carefree character unafraid to be herself with freedom to do what she wants. She clearly has a darker side which she is not afraid to show. Ironically she is the contrast to Nina and becomes the physical antagonist in the swan lake story.
The shoes are prepared as the dancers warm up in the studio as the director arrives to watch the girls. This is building to the inciting incident.
Director explains the story of Swan Lake about a girl trapped in the body of the white swan, who is nearly released by a Prince until the Prince is tricked by the Black Swan. White Swan kills herself in desperation and in turn finds freedom. This is a mirror of the journey of the Nina in the film.
Director picks his dancers and explains his search for a Swan Queen. But he needs a dancer who can dance both white and black swans, the good and the bad. This is Nina’s goal to play the role. The story is Nina’s quest to find her inner demons to dig deep to play the dark swan. She is the perfect protagonist because of her extreme childlike innocence brought on by the over protectiveness of her Mum. She needs the growth to become an adult and find her own freedom away from her Mum.
Nina wams up in the corridor with the other dancers and hears Beth throwing things in anger in her dressing room. The success of Beth has not given her freedom.
Beth storms out and Nina takes a few personal items of Beth from her dressing room. This shows the character of Nina of someone like a fan following her idol. She sits in Beth’s dressing room and imagines what it is like to be her. Nina feels close to her dream when she sits in the dressing room.
Back in the rehearsal room, Nina dances for the Director. He tells her she could have the role if it was only the white swan. This is the obstacle for Nina, to overcome her childlike flaw that has been caused by the smothering by her Mum.
Director poses as the Prince to get Nina to release herself. He pushes Nina to be free and aggressive as she dances the black swan, to bring out her dark side. Nina must overcome her inhibitions to grow up to find her freedom.
Lilly interrupts Nina’s audition and causes Nina to falter. She is the antagonist to Nina, the clear dark swan, Nina has to overcome. There is fiction between them.
Nina leaves the audition unhappy. We see her throw up in the toilet which shows the extent t her character will suffer for her art and ambition. It indicates she already has body issues and a mental frailty brought on by her life at home.
She knows what to do but lacks the mental ability. This is her psychological journey to overcome her issues. The failed audition is a setback she has to overcome.
On the way home her Mum calls, being over protective. She controls Nina so much she prevents her from any mental growth of her own. On her journey home Nina is spooked by a passer-by. Her mentality is clearly fragile already like a lost child.
At home Nina is reduced to tears as she tells her Mum about the problem with her audition. Her character is weak and not able to stand up to her mum. She is unable to deal with disappointment like a grown up. Her Mum poses as an obstacle to Nina’s mental growth. She continually tests the immaturity flaw of Nina and her mental frailty brought on by the over protectiveness.
The battle in the film is Nina against her own mental frailty.
Nina practices at home on her technique, like a girl studying for a class. She injures her foot and her Mum treats it attentively and suggests she is working too hard in her over protective manner. She exerts control over Nina, like she is a small child.
Nina complains about Lilly. Her mother puts her Nina down trying to control her. She lives out her own dream of dancing through her daughter. It has made Nina obsessed with dancing and mentally unbalanced.
Her Mum knows how it feels to be overlooked as a dancer and this has cast a shadow of expectation over Nina. Her mother plays Nina the music box, a symbol of her childhood. It shows Nina still as a child, smothered by her mother. These are the obstacles Nina has to get over to grow up.
Nina sees the Director, dressed up, so she can tell him she finished the dance she was supposed to do. She wants to impress him with her effort and ask for the role. But like a child trying to impress teacher.
Director tells him he has cast the part to another dancer. He wants to bring out maturity in her. He explains Nina cannot dance the black swan; the role needs an adult approach. She needs to lose herself to play it and lose some of her discipline. But it is a test against her immature character. Nina wants perfection like a child. But to achieve that, she has to let go, like Swan Lake. The Director is the Prince who encourages and falls for the charm of the white swan.
Director kisses Nina, and she bites him. It is a test against Nina’s mentally flawed character. Her innocence is tested. She runs off. It is a sign Nina has started to change. Against her pursuit for perfection and freedom she shows her dark side in pursuit for the role.
The dancer roles are posted. Nina congratulates the dancer she thought was getting the part. Until she learns she has been cast as the Swan Queen. It is the inciting incident in the film that puts Nina on the journey against her demons. Nina auditioned for the part to seek the freedom and perfection that would in turn help her break away from her mother.
She shows her growth is still not complete as her first instinct is to tell her Mum. She is still under her spell as the spoilt child and yet to go through the transformation to play the role.
She finds the words WHORE written in the bathroom mirror. It is the opposition she faces. This is the battle to keep the role and beat her demons.
Nina returns home. She goes in her Mum’s bedroom and sees Nina’s portraits all over the place. It’s a clear sign of her obsession in her Mum’s character. She lives her own life through her Nina and tries to stop her make her own mistakes. Brought up in that atmosphere has had an effect on Nina.
Nina notices red marks on her back, a sign of nerves. Not only is it the mental impact of the role but it is also the physical ones Nina has to overcome. Nina’s mental frailty is evident and the less than perfect skin is a mental knock and barrier.
Her Mum brings home a cake which Nina refuses to eat because of her obsession with dancing and her weight. Her Mum’s angry that she does not trust her and nearly throws the cake away in anger. She is proud but over protective. Also it looks she is about to lose her sweet girl to the role. Nina does not want to ruin her chance but to succeed she has to break away from her Mum’s hold.
Nina practises the white swan routine, which the Director likes. But he tells her she needs to work on her black swan. The challenge for Nina is the black swan because it encompasses complete freedom and embraces her dark side, which is hard for Nina to comprehend mentally. But she must battle her mind to achieve the perfection she perceives is needed for the role.
Nina practices. She then watches Lilly dancing. Director joins Nina and explains why he admires the dancing of Lilly. She is being highlighted as the competition and physical antagonist in the Swan Lake story as the true Black Swan. If anything happens to Nina she is aware Lilly will get the role and Nina has already cast Lilly as the Black Swan in her mind.
Just like in Swan Lake, the director is like the prince, as he chooses between the white swan of Nina and the black swan of Lilly. At this point Nina is still in favour but Lilly is becoming ever more prominent especially in the mind of Nina.
Nina is shown to her dressing room which she shares with Beth. Nina’s hard work has paid off by her presence in the dressing room. But whilst the material changes have come the mental changes are a work in progress.
Nina and the director attend drinks where Nina is asked to charm them. But Nina is still like a shy child around him, in awe of him.
Director announces the retirement of Beth. Beth clearly is upset by the decision and storms out. This touches on the theme of what happens after your career is over. Unlike Nina’s Mum, Beth has reached the pinnacle of the company as a star but has been retired, despite her talent. The success has not given her freedom.
Ironically Nina is announced as the new dancer, interrupted by the poor manners of Lilly. She admires Beth but is the one who now takes over her position. Nina has to deal with the mental pressure of replacing Beth, her idol, who is dealing with her own mental frailties.
At every turn Nina is shadowed by the presence of Lilly, the real life Black Swan. Nina visits the bathroom at the drinks and when she peels away lose skin from her finger nails. She hallucinates she has pulled away more than she had. It’s a first sign of the mental pressure has got to her. Her mental frailty is due to her obsessiveness to obtain perfection and live out the dream imposed on her by her overprotectiveness of her Mum.
Lilly joins Nina in the bathroom. She introduces herself. Lilly removes her knickers and puts them in her bag, a sign of her carefree attitude, in contrast to the Nina. She wants to get to know Nina. Lilly ironically says she would lose her mind if she had the role, which is what is happening to Nina.
Director arranges to take Nina home and congratulates her. The bond between Nina and the Prince is developing.
Nina looks at the statue of the Black swan. It is a symbol that her mind is slowing turning into the black swan.
A drunken Beth appears behind her. She is angry Nina is taking her place in the company dealing with her own mental issues. The fragile Nina tries to deal with Beth with respect. Beth explains the Director called Nina frigid. She tests Nina’s state of mind. Beth attacks Nina and calls her a whore.
Director interrupts. Beth warns Nina to make the most if it. Nina has to look at Beth as the person she could become.
Director and Nina go for a drink at his home where he talks about her opening up. She confesses not to being a virgin. They talk about love and sex. He wants her to open up and tells her to masturbate. He wants to bring out her black swan and lose her innocence which is a physical and mental battle for Nina.
At home her Mum is jealous of not being part of the evening. Mentally her Mum has issues over letting her daughter grow up. Her Mum finds the rash on her back. Her Mum cuts her nails so she will not scratch the rash. She wants Nina to be perfect that has left her mentally scarred. Her Mum blames herself for putting on the pressure.
Nina wakes and plays with herself. She is embracing another side to her. But at the moment of climax she realises her Mum is in the room. Her Mum is her obstacle to her becoming the dark swan and playing the darker part by achieving freedom in her mind. The over protectiveness of the Mum means Nina is not free enough to open up.
At the rehearsal, news comes that Beth has had an accident and is in the hospital.
Director tells Nina that Beth was hit by a car. He explains that Beth acts from a dark impulse which makes her thrilling to watch. This is the standard Nina aims to achieve. It is the black swan role in person. Beth has reached the top by embracing her dark side. But this has come at a cost. Beth was perfect but dangerous and destructive. Her freedom destroyed her. In achieving success in her career, it has turned her into a monster.
Nina is told, this is her moment and not to waste it. This increases the stakes and more mental pressure applied. She has to stick to her goal despite the distraction of Beth, the fading star. Irony is Nina rates Beth and wants to be successful like her instead of having regrets like her Mum. If Nina fails she fears she will become like her Mum.
Nina visits the hospital to see Beth. She sees her leg badly damaged and runs from the hospital. Significance is the legs that have made Beth a star are now ruined. She feels the pain of Beth and responsible for taking her place.
Back in the dressing room Nina lays out her stuff. She is determined to go on and push through her fears and mental frailties.
At home Nina finds a piece of wood she realises she needs to shut her Mum out of her life and the wood will act to block the door to prevent her Mum entering. This is used later in the film.
At rehearsals Nina is told to relax more into the black swan role. She has won the role but it is difficult for her to play the black swan because of her reluctance to let in the freedom needed. She has treatment after the dance. She has to overcome the physical pressures of the role as well as the mental ones.
At more rehearsal Nina is criticised for being frigid. The lights go off and the Director shouts to have them put back on as they are still working. This is a fore warning for when this happens later.
Nina dances with the Director. But he is angry because he seduces her and it’s not her seducing him. Director appears to fall for the white swan. Nina is left in tears. Even though she has won the role she is failing mentally to face her demons and open up to the role.
She is interrupted by Lilly, who enters with a cigarette. Lilly’s character has the freedom to act how she likes. They talk and smoke. Nina has had a hard day. Lilly teases Nina about her love for the Director. Nina mentally fears Lilly is after the director and her role.
At home Nina masturbates in the bath. She hallucinates the face of Lilly. Then notices her rash has become worse. It is a sign the role is getting to her but although she appears to lose it, she handles it when she cuts her finger nails. Her mind plays tricks on her.
At the rehearsal again Nina has to repeat her dance moves as the Director is unhappy with them. The stakes are getting higher as he loses patience. Nina is keen to impress but unable to get the black swan attitude right. The mental side of the role proves a challenge.
Director explains Lilly told him she needed a break. He hates to hear her complain and wants Nina to become stronger. This is a blow against her mental frailties.
Nina talks to Lilly. She is upset Liily has been talking to the Director. This is the battle of the white and dark swan. Nina has to change her mental attitude to face off with Lilly and become more like the black swan character needed for the role.
On the journey home Nina hallucinates an old man jerking off. The mental pressure of the role and the struggle to become the black swan has an effect on her. She starts to see the darker side of life.
At home Mum is concerned Nina is being taken advantage of. Mum is worried about her career. Nina retaliates and tells her Mum her career was already over by the time she gave birth to Nina and she was only in the chorus. Nina faces up to the fact that she does not want to become the failure like her Mum.
Her Mum made Nina feel guilty for the fact she had to give up dancing to have her. This is the flaw in Nina, her guilt inherited from her Mum.
Now to overcome the guilt she has to succeed and in order to get the freedom to play the black swan she must overcome the guilt and pain.
Her Mum demands to see her rash but Nina refuses. She rebels as her inner black swan darker character starts to emerge.
Her Mum answers the door and tells them Nina is not there.
Nina leaves the apartment to find Lilly was at the door offering to take Nina out. Nina decides to go out with Lilly. This is the turning point when Nina starts to emerge with some freedom away from her Mum. She turns against the oppressive nature of her Mum and prepares to embrace a more riotous life.
Nina and Lilly talk about the Director and how he calls Beth little princess.
Lilly gives Nina a spare dress, significantly black, as this is part of Nina’s transformation to the black swan. Lilly offers Nina drugs. Nina refuses at first. Her mental attitude still fights the change of character.
Nina puts on the black dress. Her Mum tries to phone her. She wears her cardigan over the black dress. It is a sign she has not accepted the black swan persona. Lilly sees Nina spike the drink but agrees to drink it anyway. Nina starts to accept the change in her character. Lilly teases her about going home to Mum, who Nina wants to overcome.
The evening descends into drinking and meeting guys. Nina starts to hallucinate and laugh with the drugs. They go for a dance. She finally embraces her dark side, kissing guys and leaving them behind.
She meets Lilly outside and they share a cab ride home. They connect in the taxi home in a sexual way, the final part of Nina’s transformation to her dark side. Her mind rebels against her old life.
At home, Nina is confronted by her Mum. Nina and Lilly run to the bedroom. Her Mum is angry with her and shouts at her.
The piece of wood Nina found earlier is now used to block the door as pay off form the earlier set up. Nina sourced the wood with this moment in mind. Nina’s character has now overcome her Mum. She is forceful saying she is not twelve anymore. She has broken away from the suffocating discipline.
Nina and Lilly partake in a lesbian romp in her bedroom and the black wings of the black swan evident as a tattoo on Lilly’s back in a great symbol of the dark side taking over in her mind.
Nina wakes late in the morning alone. Her Mum has let her oversleep continuing to be over protective. She declares she wants to move out to her Mum as she leaves for her rehearsal. She is at a real low point with her relationship with her Mum at a low point and her role being jeopardised by her punctuality.
Nina arrives to see Lilly play the black swan. Director appears to fall for the charms of the black swan Lilly as she dances the role. This is what Nina is afraid of as she watches Nina play. It is test against the mentality of Nina that is at a low.
Director is impressed and like the Swan Lake story, the prince starts to fall for the black swan. This adds mental pressure to Nina as her worst fears appear to becoming true.
Nina is unhappy with Lilly about the evening. Lilly denies the lesbian romp. It is all in Nina’s head. It is a sign that the pressure of the role, awakening her dark side, fighting her Mum. She sees the Director falling for Lilly. Nina continues to throw up. She has not broken away from her old habits. She seems further away from the mental preparation needed for a perfect performance.
At home she breaks the music box that is a symbol of her childhood and throws away all her soft toys. This displays how the girl has become a woman. She is growing up. She acknowledges the need to change.
She rehearses again and practices the final act, where the white swan kills herself. She is hesitant but then jumps. It signifies in the play the moment when the white swan finds freedom. She is on her way to mentally prepare for the dual role of the black and white swan.
Nina is measured for her costume. She has lost weight, a sign of the mental pressure and dedication. She looks in the mirror and hallucinates her reflection scratches her rash. It is a reflection of the old Nina fighting in Nina’s head.
Nina spots Lilly getting measured for the black swan costume as Director has made her the alternate. It is the worst possible scenario for Nina. Lilly is her antagonist, the one she has to beat to the role and it is a mental blow to Nina.
Nina confronts the Director and tells him she does not want Lilly to be the alternate. Nina is paranoid Lilly is after her and her role. She has learnt about the dark side of her character and realises she has to prevent her getting her hands on the role.
Director comforts Nina and tells her to go home and rest. He is still the perfect Prince in character and the mental reassurance Nina needs.
Nina practices to make sure she has the moves perfect. Pianist goes home fed up with the long hours. She is mentally pressured into seeking perfection. She hallucinates in the mirror that her reflection is not moving when she is. Once again a sign of her mental frailty playing tricks.
The lights go off and although Nina cries for them to be turned on, nobody hears. She is put in her place by everyone’s refusal to acknowledge her. Nina investigates noises she hears and hallucinates the Director and Lilly having sex, her worst mental vision.
Nina visits the hospital to see Beth. She leaves her a note and some ear rings that she took from her room. She relates to Beth now and somebody trying to steal her role. Her mental torture has become similar to the problems of Beth. She admits to being nothing. Nina hallucinates Beth stabbing herself. Her visions are getting stronger and more worrying, a sign of her declining mental state.
At home Nina creeps around looking to avoid her Mum. But her Mum appears. Nina throws up in the sink. Nina hears noises. She visits her Mum’s room and the portraits are yelling ‘sweet girl’ to her. Nina shuts her Mum out, the rash on her back appears to get worse and black swan like feathers appear. Her eyes show the steel of the black swan, she shuts her Mum’s hand in the door and her legs buckle beneath her. Her mental state finally affects her body as she collapses. She reaches her lowest point.
Nina wakes in the morning to find her Mum looking over her. Nina has mittens on to stop the scratching. Her Mum tries to keep her in bed. She has told them she is not going to dance. Nina overcomes her Mum to leave for the theatre.
Nina is determined to play the Swan Queen not be in the chorus like her Mum. She has reached her lowest point and now must either play the role or fail.
Nina arrives at the theatre to find Lilly has been asked to play the role. It is her worst fear but she has become mentally strong enough to fight the competition.
Nina persuades him to let her play the role unless he wants another controversy like Beth. This is the final hurdle and shows Nina’s growth to be an adult and embrace her chance. Director tells her to lose herself in the role.
Nina prepares for the white swan role. She hallucinates that her feet have become webbed. She has become the role of the swan both mentally and physically. It has overtaken her mind. She prepares to go on stage. She appears nervous and is in the wrong place. She now seems uncomfortable in the white swan role.
Nina performs the white swan role. It is her time. Director encourages her on. Lilly meanwhile flirts with another male dancer. Nina appears nervous in the dance and falls out the male dancers hands. Nina is in tears. Director is angry. Mentally it is a blow for Nina against her pursuit of perfection. She knows she has let down her Prince.
Nina returns to her dressing room to find Lilly offering to play the black swan in the costume. Nina fights with Lilly and kills her.
Nina’s neck stretches to that of a swan. It is her metamorphosis into the black swan. It symbolises the mental changes going on in her head. She had faced her dark side, beat the competition and gathered the strength, freedom and dark side to play the black swan.
Nina performs great as the black swan. Her transformation is final. She appears to grow the feathers of the black swan out her back and down her arms. She can let herself go and dance how she needs to. She reaches the perfections she craves.
She kisses the Director. It is the moment the black swan has triumphed over the white swan.
Nina returns to her dressing room and mops up the blood of Lilly. But Lilly appears at the door saying how good she was.
Nina checks and can find no blood. It is another hallucination.
Nina continues to prepare to return as the white swan and sees she is bleeding herself. She pulls out a shard of glass and chooses to continue with the dance as the white swan. Like the story of Swan Lake the white swan has effectively killed herself to find her freedom.
Nina dances the rest of the performance and the final scene where she jumps. It is significant because for Nina this is her last breath. She can see her Mum is proud in the audience and jumps. She has found the perfection she is looking for.
Director calls her the little princess which is what he used to call Beth. She has earned his respect. Nina tells him she felt it that she was perfect. But it came at a price of her death.
Credits roll to the audience applause.