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Black Swan (Using Psychoanalysis in the Movie)

Updated on April 1, 2020

The movie Black Swan delivers a story of a psychotic ballerina who succeeded in achieving her great desire for self perfection by unconsciously and ironically killing herself. Nina Sayers, the psychotic ballerina, portrays a gentle and conservative persona who has mastered perfect and meticulous movements as a ballet artist. Such strength makes her qualified to play the role of the white swan in Swan Lake. But to get her another dream lead role of being the black swan (the evil twin of the white swan), she needs to “lose herself” and oppose her soft side and show a “dangerous” personality.
Primarily, the story of Swan Lake (particularly of the black and white swans) mirrors the two conflicting characters of Nina who, in the movie, went through a metamorphosis – from being as soft as the white swan to being as wild, seductive and sensual as the black swan. Having her desires to present a perfect portrayal of the roles, get the attention of and be loved by her environment and mainly satisfy herself, Nina presents a narcissistic yet repressed character – a conflict which destroys her mind and individuality: perfection versus repression.
Nina’s unbalanced psyche is being affected by the people in her background: Erica, Thomas, Lily, and Beth. Nina’s mother (Erica), being so obsessed with her daughter and psychologically unstable, is a controlling persona who significantly contributes to Nina’s repression of desires by making her daughter submissive to her. But this control also contributes in Nina’s later emancipation as her response or solution to her repressed feelings. Thomas, the ballet director, was the one who urged her to “lose herself”, motivate sexual desires of her id and transform to being “black”. On the other hand, Lily and Beth are the characters whom Nina considers as rival and model respectively for perfection in portraying the personality of the black swan.
The movie is full of imageries and symbols which give more emphasis to Nina’s psychologically unstable situation. The use of two predominant colors, black and white, defines the two contrasting behaviors of Nina: black which refers to being seductive, dangerous and wild, the alter ego she’s striving to perfectly expose. White signals a gentle, conservative and virgin personality of Nina, the behavior she used to live with and display in the society. The constant appearance of mirror where Nina constantly saw her “black” side signals reflection of her true psyche. The wings, which are seen in different areas of the movie, represent the freedom and gratification Nina was able to achieve at the end of the story. Nina’s dream also represents a picture of her desire to perfection. Other minor symbols are used in the movie, emphasizing the problematic mind of Nina: the lipstick which she stole from Beth signifies her idea of perfection, and lastly, the paintings crafted by Erica symbolize her fixation and control over Nina. This also gives impression to the narcissistic tendencies of Erica towards Nina.

Guerin, W., et al (1966). A handbook of critical approaches to literature. USA: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.

‘Black Swan’: Psychiatrists Diagnose Ballerina’s Descent. Retrieved from:

The Occult Interpretation of the Movie “Black Swan” and Its Message on Show Business. Retrieved from:


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