Black Swan is a 2010 Darren Aronofsky film. Good Lord, is it ever a Darren Aronofsky film.After years of working in the background, the innocent and fragileballet dancer Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) has the chance to become the star of her troupe in a production of Swan Lake. The role requires the lead to play both the delicate White Swan and the dark and sensual Black Swan. Nina is perfect for the White Swan, but her innocent nature and sexual repression makes her lack the passion the Black Swan role requires. Competition soon emerges in Lily (Mila Kunis), the polar opposite of Nina, a new dancer who is charming the director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). When the dual nature of the two parts she plays in the production forces Nina to confront her own inner conflict of sexual repression, the pressure of the role and Nina's obsessive desire to give a perfect performance threatens to drive her over the edge.Black Swan was well-received by critics, and became Aronofsky's highest-grossing movie. Natalie Portman's performance was especially praised, and she received an Academy Award for Best Actress among many other awards and nominations.Not to be confused with the 1940s Tyrone Power film The Black SwanNassim Nicholas Taleb's guide to randomness, Mercedes Lackey's book The Black Swan, the Thom Yorke song, the HorslipsShadows On our Skin, or the Australian brand of dip.
This film has examples of:
Abusive Parents: Erica, of the babying-your-grown-daughter/forcing-your-daughter-to-fulfill-your-dreams kind. Most of it is verbal abuse and psychological torture, though how much of it is real and how much of it is Nina hallucinating is debatable.
Agony of the Feet: As mentioned below, there is a lot of attention paid to the damage ballerinas do to their feet. A particularly painful example is Nina splitting one of her big toenails down the middle.
As You Know: Thomas describes the plot of Swan Lake to a roomful of ballerinas, and more importantly the audience.
Baleful Polymorph: In parallel with the plot of Swan Lake, Nina seems to think this is actually happening to her.
Becoming the Mask: Happens to Nina—Maybe. Too much in this movie depends on your interpretation to say for sure.
Beneath the Mask: Nina. It's made clear that she has a repressed side. Her normal self is represented by the "white swan". On the other hand her repressed side is represented by her black swan persona.
Black Humor: The movie does have the occasional moment where one thinks "should I really be laughing at this?". There are many moments of Black Comedy stuck in the middle of horrific or dramatic scenes.
Body Horror: All over the place. Some is Truth in Television squick showing the physical toll that this sort of intense regime can have on a dancer, and some is pure, David Cronenberg-style madness, with Baleful Polymorph and self-mutilation.
Bolivian Army Ending: Nina is dying due to a self-inflicted stab wound. Whether the wound is ultimately fatal or not is left open to interpretation.
Book Ends: Nina begins and ends the movie on a bed, with the same facial expression.
Break the Cutie: Nina is broken in sequentially more horrifying ways throughout the movie.
Beth and possibly Erica could count as this as well.
Casting Couch: It's implied that this is the norm for Thomas. Although, in an interesting twist, the impulsiveness and capriciousness that Nina shows when she resists his advances seems to make him more interested in promoting her.
At the party, Beth accuses Nina of giving Thomas oral sex in exchange for the role. Nina accuses Beth of the same.
Mirroring the motifs of the ballet and the film, a picture of Lily and Nina eating together has both of them wearing similar outfits, except one is black and the other is white. This continues right up to the Real Life premier where Portman wore black and Kunis wore white.
Nina and her mother's apartment (especially her room) is brightly lit, sunny, and full of color, especially white and pink. Thomas' apartment is filled with blacks and grays, and the studio itself is mainly white and black with touches of gray. Nina herself always wears pink and white, but her palette becomes darker as the movie goes on.
On their night out itself, Nina puts on Lily's black top over her white top and then wears a grey sweatshirt over that. She then proceeds to wear a lot of grey for the rest of the movie. When Nina returns to the studio after the party scene, many of the palettes are swapped - characters that were wearing black are now wearing white, and vice versa.
Coming of Age Story: If you look at it the right way, the film is a fairly twisted version of this. Protagonist becoming more independent? Check. Getting rid of "childish things"? Check. Exploration of repressed sexuality? Check. Add some Mind Screw to the formula, just to keep things interesting, and voila.
It certainly is a kind of Coming of Age Story - even though Nina is a woman, she is immature; she is going through experiences that usually occur much earlier in a girls life (body image issues, coming to terms with sexuality) and are part of the difficult transition to adulthood. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that Nina seems to have been cosseted by her mother in a childish bedroom, being her mother's little girl... she is socially and sexually inexperienced... and she is very mentally ill.
Cool Big Sis: Lily tries to get Nina to open up and become friends with her, and also escape her mother's influence.
Cute and Psycho: Nina. It's noted to be almost required for the role of the Swan Princess.
Dies Wide Open: Nina... possibly. Also Lily, when Nina hallucinates that she killed her.
Dirty Old Man: A man on the subway, who was also the creepy old man on the subway in π.
Disappeared Dad: Nina's father is never seen. He's only mentioned indirectly; when discussing Thomas' possible romantic pursuit of Nina, Erica states "I don't want you to make the same mistake I did". He was/is most likely working in ballet, quite possibly even in a position similar to Thomas'.
Feathered Fiend: Rothbart is portrayed in the Swan Lake production as a half-human crow-like figure. While he isn't exactly frightening in real life, he's quite scary during Nina's hallucinations. And even the earliest trailer gave away Nina's feathers.
The crowning moment, as well as the hardest to watch scene in the film, is when Nina is at the opening season ceremony in the bathroom. She notices a hangnail on her middle finger and proceeds to pick at it, and...well...this scene was nominated for "Biggest Jaw Dropping Moment" at the MTV awards to give some idea of how bad the next bit is. Thankfully, it turns out to be a hallucination afterwards.
Forceful Kiss: Thomas gives one to Nina after she comes to his office to ask for the part of the Swan Queen. Her biting him in response is what prompts him to give her the role. Later, when Nina is in full Black Swan mode, she surprises him by giving him a forced, passionate kiss in the stage wings.
One of Nina's mother's paintings appears to move slightly in an early scene, foreshadowing the madness later.
At the club, when Nina and Lily are dancing, the butterflies from Nina's room briefly appear on the left side of the screen, as does the moon, reflecting the line about going "to the moon and back." At the same time, some barely noticeable face switching between Nina and Lily occurs, and Nina's Black Swan eye makeup appears for a split-second. Additionally, the guy that Nina is dancing with morphs into Rothbart several times (he also appears in the background in some frames), and at one point his face morphs into that of Thomas. Also, Nina's White Swan costume appears in a few frames, as does the Icarus statue. Blurred imagery of a nude woman can be seen in at least three frames, as well. Plus, in several of the frames, the people in the background are often distorted and out-of-focus. As well as... loads of other surreal imagery. Some (but not all) of these moments can be viewed here.
Whenever Nina is enjoying a private moment with herself, THE SWANS ARE WATCHING—there's a black swan stuffed animal in her bedroom, visible when she touches herself in bed, and there's a white swan on the bathroom tile behind her head when she's in the bathtub. Not to mention all of the weird face-switches.
Lily has flowers tattooed onto her shoulders (lilies, in fact). During the scene in Nina's room, they suddenly change into swan wings.
There are a few occasions when different people suddenly turn into Nina's doppelgänger for a few seconds, something which can be hard to miss - an early example is the random passer-by near the beginning of the film. There's also Lily during the sex scene and during the earlier scene when she smokes with Nina in the ballet studio, Beth during the nail file scene, and four of the backup dancers during the actual performance of Swan Lake.
When Nina first visits Beth in the hospital and has a quick peek at her broken leg and stitched-up leg wound (the latter of which is only shown for about a second), she sees the wound with burst stitches and open and festering towards the bottom. (As seen in the Making-Of documentary, the wound was going to have maggots crawling around and in it, but this isn't shown in the finished film.)
Genre Shift: Less of a shift than in most examples, but the movie does sway back and forth between being a psychological thriller and an overt horror story, although the balance between psychological thriller and horror tips more and more towards the horror end of the scale as the movie goes on.
Get Out: Nina screams this at her mother several times while pushing her out of her room during the 'Night of Terror' sequence where she hallucinates she's transforming into a black swan, which ends with her slamming the door on her mother's fingers several times.
Jerkass: Thomas, in spades. Veronica probably counts too, being bitchy and snooty towards Nina.
Jitter Cam: Occurs a few times, such as when Nina is first seen walking to the studio.
Jump Scare: All over the place, particularly in the scene where Beth is standing right behind Nina in the lobby after the party, the sudden appearance of [Nina's evil doppelgänger during the bath scene and many times during the "Night of Terror" sequence. Often combined with Mirror Scares.
Last Note Nightmare: The piece of music featured over the ending credits, "A Swan Song (For Nina)" starts out sad, but becomes extremely dark and ominous part way through. It ends on a high-pitched screech, which is overlapped by the sound of wingbeats. The wingbeats aren't featured on the soundtrack album itself, but it's still pretty unsettling.
Nina literally means "little girl" and is often used in diminutives of Russian names, showing how babied she is by Erica, as well as connecting her to Swan Lake, which was a Russian ballet. And when chanted by a crowd it sounds something like bird-noises. Her last name, Sayers, could be something of a Shout-Out too: Zelda Sayres, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, was an ambitious ballerina who came very close to making it big professionally, but who was also schizophrenic.
Lily is harder: It's similar sounding to Odile, the name of the Black Swan from Swan Lake. The name is also reminiscent of Lilith, infamous demon and seductress of the night. The Lily flower symbolizes purity and the colour white, as well as death and resurrection- all of these are particularly appropriate at the end of the film. On a probably unintentional but still interesting note, "lily" is the translation of the word "yuri".
It's also an Ironic Name considering the word "lily" brings to mind a white flower, even though she embodies the black swan.
The domineering director is named Thomas Leroy; "Le Roy" means "the king" in French and "Thomas" means "twin".
Nina's overbearing, controlling mother is also named Erica; a name which roughly translates to "eternal ruler."
Beth is (presumably) short for Elizabeth, a name very strongly associated with royalty.
Melodrama: Nina is very melodramatic, due to her utter obsession with her role, and her developing mental issues. Also counting to the fact that ballet is an extremely melodramatic lifestyle, one botched audition can really fuck up EVERYTHING.
Mind Screw: Big time. What's real, what's a hallucination, and what's a visual metaphor? In this movie, it's hard to tell, and increasingly it's hard to tell if there's even a difference. Did the movie even happen at all, or will Nina wake up screaming five minutes after the credits?
Mirror Scare: Mind Screw + Surreal Horror + Body Horror + hundreds of mirrors everywhere on sets such as a ballet studio, toilet, and dressing room are not a good combination for the fainthearted. If you pay attention, you'll notice that there are mirrors in practically every single shot of the movie. And you can never be sure that something isn't subtly wrong about what's in the mirror...
Ms. Fanservice: Lily embodies sex in everything she does in order to contrast with the sexually repressed and overly conservative Nina.
Mood Whiplash: Several, but none more severe than when Nina is first doing her homework and rolls over to find her mother sleeping next to her.
Narcissist: Beneath her many insecurities and generally meek behaviour, Nina shows a surprising number of traits associated with pathological narcissism — an obsession with being perfect to bolster a weak sense of self, an inability to relate to anything not connected to herself or ballet, a narcissistic parent, her reactions to the thought of being replaced by Lily and to the adoration of the audience, etc.
No Antagonist: Thomas is something of an obstacle to Nina's success, but only because of the way she approaches her work with him. In reality, he wants her to succeed. Lily might be Nina's professional rival...or that might just be Nina's paranoia at work. Really, the only concrete antagonist Nina has is herself.
No OSHA Compliance: For the fall at the end of Swan Lake there's only a single mattress for Nina to fall roughly 10 feet onto.
Never Trust a Trailer: Some of the TV spots for this film seem to portray it as some kind of romantic drama or a chick flick, or just a straightforward film about ballet. Others portray it as more of a typical horror movie instead of psychological horror, and overemphasize Lily's role.
Nightmare Face: Erica's paintings, when Nina hallucinates that they're yelling "SWEET GIRL!" at her over and over again.
Oh Crap: Nina wakes up and begins to...um...follow Thomas' instructions. Just as she nears her happy moment, she turns to her right...and sees her mother asleep in the chair. Needless to say, this kills the mood.
One Steve Limit: Averted. The director's name is Thomas. One of Lily's friends at the club is named Tom.
In the transformation scenes during the "Night of Terror" sequence, starting when Nina plucks a feather from her back.
The final Black Swan makeup features terrifying red contacts. Visible on the poster, but even more startling in the film. This is exaggerated when she first dances with them on, with Portman's eyes widening considerably against an accompanying sound effect.
Slasher Smile: Evil Nina unleashes a horrifying one during the bath scene: Here. Later, after returning home from the club, Nina flashes this.
Spiritual Antithesis: The film manages to serve as both a Spiritual Sequel and this to The Wrestler. Darren Aronofsky described them as "two halves of the same film": both involve artist protagonists whose careers wreak havoc in their personal life but The Wrestler revolves around the beauty found in the "lower art" of wrestling while Black Swan revolves around the horror found in the "higher art" of ballet.
Spiritual Sequel: To The Wrestler, of all things. They begin similarly, both depict the tolls that Randy/Nina's chosen profession takes on their body and identity, and they end with literally the same shot. Word of God says that they are "Two halves of the same film", with Professional Wrestling representing the lowest art, and Ballet representing the highest. They were in fact originally the same film, with Marisa Tomei's role in The Wrestler originally planned as being a ballerina. Aronofsky decided he couldn't do justice to either story by cramming them into the same movie, so instead he made one, then the other.
Spiritual Successor: To The Wrestler, according to Aronofsky. It's pretty much that movie's foil: Wrestler is about finding beauty in a brutal sport while Swan is all about the brutality of a beautiful artform.
Split Personality: A part of Nina is an innocent and disciplined mommy's girl trying to do her best to make mommy proud while the other part is a sexually repressed 28-year-old woman who is still living with her mom inside a pink room with a lot of stuffed animals. When the dual nature of the two parts she plays in the production forces her to confront her own inner conflict, she might not be able to handle the psychological toll.
In Real Life, Portman is now married to the ballet instructor for the film (who also played David/ The Prince), Benjamin Millepied.
Tears of Joy: Nina, after finding out that she got the role of the Swan Queen.
Technician Versus Performer: An obvious case with Nina and Lily, respectively. This is consistently lampshaded in-film by Leroy. However, this gets massively deconstructed as Nina has no social life because all she does is ballet, and is explicitly told by Thomas that she needs to be both to play the Swan Queen.
Technicolor Eyes: On some close-ups, you can see that Thomas has central heterochromia.
The Vamp: The Black Swan character embodies this trope. Nina might have to get in touch with her inner Vamp to pull off the role. Is Lily this trope naturally or is that just how Nina sees her?
Virgin Power: Averted. Nina's lack of sexual adventurousness and her inability to confront that part of her nature is a big part of her problem. Though she tells Thomas she's not in fact a virgin, she may be too shy or ashamed to admit it.
Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Happens after Nina hallucinates Beth's sudden appearance in her kitchen. Earlier there are also a few discretion shots. There is also a subversion at one point when Nina retches over the toilet, but nothing comes up.