Thursday, 13 October 2011

Black Swan (2010)

Fig. 1
 Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan has to be the most mentally disturbing, yet absolutely refreshing, exhilarating film ever! The operatic music throughout is spellbinding and builds the claustrophobic tension to a somewhat unbearable level. The film follows a ballerina, Nina (Natalie Portman), in search of perfection, in doing so she learns that to be perfect she must also be imperfect. The production of Swan Lake entails for the Swan Queen to dance the White Swan and the Black Swan, therefore Portman’s character must find a darker side to herself, both sexually and personally. She, herself, is seen as the white swan whilst Lily (Mila Kunis) portrays the black swan. Nina’s character is seen as innocent and naïve, yet Aronofsky’s constant haunting of her ‘double’ makes it clear to the audience that all is not how it seems. The theme of the ‘double’ comes from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s idea that everyone has an exact person like themselves, that differs in character - it is considered a bad omen to see your ‘double’ that will only result in death. Which is clearly demonstrated in the film. The line “The only thing that stands in your way is yourself,” (said by Thomas) has never been as greatly used in context. Aronofsky’s use of the double to depict the mental illness Nina suffers from is an ingenious idea. The first moment that reveals this is when Nina passes her 'double' down a dark alley way, from then on she sees herself everywhere. 

Fig. 2
Peter Bradshaw notes, "As a study of female breakdown, Black Swan is the best thing since Polanski's Repulsion. But, in fact, with its creepy Manhattan interiors, its looming, closeup camera movements, and its encircling conspiracy of evil, it looks more like Rosemary's Baby, particularly in cinematographer Matthew Libatique's brilliant continuous shot in which Nina makes out with a random guy in a club, then wakes up to what she's doing and, freaked out, blunders through murky winding corridors and out into the night air – there seems no difference between inside and outside. Everywhere is claustrophobic." (Bradshaw 2011) Bradshaw observes the camera following the protagonist in the shot making the film very claustrophobic. It is obvious that Bradshaw feels Aronofsky has immersed him fully into the action and the state of mind that Nina finds herself in.  

The film also touches on the volatile relationship between mother and daughter; either represented as a current issue of ‘pushy parents’ striving for the best for themselves through their child or living vicariously through someone else to perfect their unfinished dreams. The film sees Nina’s mum to be the real monster, who pushes Nina to be the star, but then tries to sabotages her daughter at every opportunity - this is shown through the calorific cake and trying to stop her daughter from performing on opening night. Resentment and jealously is shown throughout the relationship, but is originally smothered by child like niceties. Catherine Bray states, "With brilliant performances and striking visuals, Black Swan is what some people like to call bravura film-making. It is also often pleasingly mad, less pleasingly shrill and has a genuine knack for building tension on the slimmest of pretexts. The role of Nina, a neurotic, obsessive ballerina dominated by her scary mother, sees Natalie Portman give what is without doubt her most forceful performance to date." (Bray 2011) Bray praises Portman's performance and conveys the qualities expressed by the character that she plays to a t.

Fig. 3
To strive for perfection, the film shows the gruesome realities beyond the graceful, perfectly poised dancing and gets the audience to see the bloody, deformed feet and the vomiting. The vomiting could be representational of anorexia/bulimia. Aronofsky’s bold gore hits the audience hard.

The use of the mirrors are prominent within nearly every scene, of course relating to the idea of the 'double' but also highlighting Nina's disturbed mental state. The subtle hints of Nina's mental state are constant and it's not till the viewer gets further into the film that they start to piece it together i.e. the 'feather-like' rash which turns out to be her scratching/self harming her back. Aronofsky immerses his audience into Nina's head and plays them till the end. The idea she's growing feathers is not only created visually perfect by CG, but also a clever implement used by the director.   

Fig. 4
Aronofsky uses clothing codes to portray Nina's change in character, from light, pale pinks and soft materials, to dark greys and thick items.   

Mark Adams suggests, "The film is complex, dark, exhilarating and vibrant, with director Darren Aronofsky (who made The Wrestler) creating a vibrant, often intoxicating drama rich in music, mood and menace. The dancing is wonderful and the performances sublime. Black Swan is a powerfully potent psychological drama." (Adams 2011) Adams makes it clear to the viewer his admiration for the music and powerfulness of the film. The film throughout produces an intense energy that the audience can't help but feel.

The final line "I felt it. Perfect. I was perfect," (said by Nina) is eerily creepy, yet, excuse the pun, a perfect line to end the film on!  

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Aronofsky, Darren (2010) Black Swan Movie Poster. At: (Accessed on:12/10/11)

Figure 2. Aronofsky, Darren (2010) Nina's reflection. At: (Accessed on:12/10/11)

Figure 3. Aronofsky, Darren (2010) "The Double". At: (Accessed on:12/10/11)

Figure 4. Aronofsky, Darren (2010) Nina as the Black Swan. At: (Accessed on:12/10/11)


The Guardian Peter Bradshaw (2011) Black Swan - review. At: (Accessed on:12/10/11)

Sunday Mirror Mark Adams (2011) Film Review - Black Swan. At: (Accessed on:12/10/11)

Film4 Catherine Bray (2011) Black Swan. At: (Accessed on:12/10/11)

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