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Film / Black Swan

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"I just want to be perfect."
Nina Sayers

Black Swan is a 2010 psychological thriller horror film by Darren Aronofsky — and my, is it ever a Darren Aronofsky film.

After years of working in the background, the innocent and fragile ballet 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 the new dancer Lily (Mila Kunis), who charms the director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) and is essentially the polar opposite of Nina. When the dual nature of the two parts she plays in the production forces Nina to confront her own inner conflict, the pressure of the role and Nina's obsessive desire to give a perfect performance threaten to drive her over the edge.

Not to be confused with the 1942 Tyrone Power film The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb's guide to randomness, Mercedes Lackey's book The Black Swan, the Thom Yorke song, the Horslips Shadows On Our Skin, the Australian brand of dip, or the BTS song. It also has no relation to Richelle Mead's Dark Swan novel series.

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.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Thomas' nickname for Beth is "little princess". At the end, he calls Nina that. Though it comes across as quite creepy, considering the squicky nature of Thomas' relationship to them, and what happens to both women...
  • 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.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Does Nina die of her injuries? And if she survives, does she get some much needed psychological help? What was real and what wasn't?
  • Ambiguously Bi: Since the sex scene between Nina and Lily (probably) didn't actually happen, all of Lily's known sexual interests are men. However, she has a very emotionally charged relationship with Nina, despite the two having only just met, and seems to be checking her out in some scenes. Then there's her reaction to finding out that Nina fantasized about her; she doesn't seem put off or awkward about it at all, and is only concerned with whether or not she was any good. In fact, she seems downright flattered.
  • Apologises a Lot: Nina, much to the annoyance of Thomas.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Lose yourself."
    • "Live a little."
    • "Perfect."
    • "Sweet girl."
  • Artistic License – Art: In real life, any ballet company doing more than a one-off gala performance of Swan Lake (or any ballet at all!) will have multiple casts, with dancers alternating performances — and this is especially true for a ballet like Swan Lake, which is so strenuous on the leads. In real life, Nina would have been one of several dancers assigned to perform the role.note  Going along with this, the idea that a company would only have one principal female dancer is absurd — most of the world-class companies have close to a dozen. But not in Hollywoodland.
  • Art Reflects Personality: This is a major issue for Nina in performing the main role of Odette/Odile. She's The Ingenue: sheltered, innocent, gifted at dancing with a Shrinking Violet personality. This shows up in her dancing and is why she is initially cast in the main role of the beautifully innocent Odette. However, to perform the Odile part, the dancer has to be much more aggressive, flirtatious, and sensual to get across that this is a fake Odette being impersonated by an evil witch. Nina struggles to exude the necessary amounts of sensuality for the role, which leads to a boat load of anxiety about being replaced manifesting in some Mind Screw, maybe real, maybe imagined horror.
  • As You Know: Thomas describes the plot of Swan Lake to a roomful of ballerinas, and more importantly the audience. Bonus points for him literally saying, "We all know the story," before telling the story we all know.
  • Background Body Part: At one point, the head of Nina is framed under a winged statue, making it look like she has horns.
  • 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.
  • Berserk Button: Nina's constant apologizing seems to be this for Thomas.
    Thomas: You could be brilliant, but you're a coward.
    Nina: (hurt whisper) I'm sorry.
    Thomas: Stop saying that! That's exactly what I'm talking about! Stop being so fucking weak!
  • Big Applesauce: The film takes place in New York.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Erica lets one rip at Nina after she comes home after her drink-and-drug-fueled night out:
  • Big "WHAT?!": Beth's reaction to seeing Nina, after Nina watched her have a fit in her dressing room.
  • Bitch Alert: Veronica is introduced in a scene where she and the other dancers ruthlessly deride Beth and mock her age and dancing abilities.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Lily is ultimately a subversion, as all her bitchiness is actually Nina's delusional paranoia at work.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Whether or not Nina died from her abdominal wound, she at least—in her own damaged mind—achieved perfection. However, Natalie Portman thinks that Nina does not die, but rather her injury represents her killing the girl to mature into a woman.
  • Black Bra and Panties: The virginal and repressed Nina wears white underwear, while the sensual and free-spirited Lily wears black (though the scene where we see Lily's underwear might be taking place just in Nina's imagination).
  • Black Comedy: 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.
    • Nina's first masturbation scene and the reason why it becomes Fan Disservice.
  • Blatant Lies: Nina tells Thomas that she's not a virgin when it's laughably obvious that she is one.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: Blood mysteriously drips into the bathtub over Nina's face as she submerges herself.
  • 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 Forced Transformation 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.
  • Broken Ace: Poor, poor Nina.
  • Broken Bird: Nina again. Sometimes literally... maybe.
    • 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.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: While Nina is doing her homework, she rolls over and realizes that her mother is in the room with her. Downplayed, as her mother is asleep.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Why did you need a scene to establish that lights turn off late at night? To set up the "Night of Terror" sequence later.
    • Beth's nail file.
    • Nina's rash, and her scratching.
    • Erica's paintings.
    • Lily's tattoo.
    • Thomas' talk about the fact that Beth's self-destructive tendencies were what made her so compelling.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: A squicky example when Nina walks in on Thomas and Lily. Or thinks she does. It's really unclear what actually happened.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • 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's room is brightly lit, sunny, and full of color, especially white and pink. Nina herself always wears pink and white at first, but her palette becomes darker as the movie goes on.
    • Erica is represented by green, and most of the apartment she shares with Nina is green. She's also sleeping in a green chair while Nina is masturbating.
    • Thomas' apartment is filled with blacks and grays, and the studio itself is mainly white and black with touches of grey.
    • 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.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Arguably the Black Swan role is doing this to Nina (though it's unclear how much of what she does is just in her head).
    • Erica believes that Thomas and Lily have this kind of influence on Nina (but again, she's not in the position of telling what really does good to her daughter).
  • Creepy Ballet: Ballerina Nina begins to lose her mind when she is cast as the roles of the White and Black Swans in her company's staging of Swan Lake, since the pressure from her mother, director, and rivals don't let up. She starts to become self-destructive both physically and mentally, and begins to hallucinate an evil doppelganger.
  • Cute and Psycho: Nina. It's noted to be almost required for the role of the Swan Princess.
  • A Darker Me: Nina's 's 'Black Swan' persona. Much of the films revolves around her trying to become this.
  • Dark Is Evil: The Black Swan and Rothbart. Subverted for Lily, who wears black a lot, but isn't actually a bad person.
  • Deconstruction: With Nina on the idea of becoming your character. Specifically, trying to become two diametrically opposed characters. It's not mentally healthy to go too deep into that.
  • Defensive "What?": Beth to Nina, after Nina sees her destroying her own room.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Probably Nina. Possibly Lily.
  • Determinator: Nina tries to and actually pulls off playing her part after her hallucinations reach a climax. That, and her countless hours of practicing to the point where the pianist walks out on her. Unless it was all simply in her head...
  • 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 Uncle Hank from Requiem for a Dream.
    • There's also Thomas, the dancers' middle aged instructor who is strongly implied to have a penchant for sexually grooming his leads.
  • 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'.
  • Doppelgänger: Nina hallucinates a darker version of herself following her several times throughout the film. At one point, she hallucinates having sex with herself, only for her doppelganger to smother her with a pillow. She later battles her doppelganger when she tries to attack her...only for it to turn out to be Lily after Nina stabs her...
  • Dream Ballet: One interpretation of the film, and played around with in it. Probably.
  • Driven to Suicide: The finale of "Swan Lake", and perhaps the fate of some characters in this film.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Downplayed. Taking drugs certainly doesn't do Nina any good, but she was well on course for madness beforehand.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Nina, especially in her 'Black Swan' make-up.
  • Embarrassing Ringtone: Inverted, as Nina's ringtone is Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake theme note , which would be cheesy on other persons but for her it's Fridge Brilliance.
  • Enemy Within: Nina is repressed and she seems to fear the other side of herself that the Black Swan represents and those fears begin to manifest in horrifying ways as she loses touch with reality.
  • Enforced Method Acting: In-Universe example. Thomas walks a dangerously thin line between sexually harassing and sexually assaulting Nina in an effort to teach her how to embody the role of the sensual Black Swan. Or maybe he's just a pervert.
  • Epic Rocking: "Night of Terror", which is used in the nightmarish sequence of the same name clocks in at an impressive 8:01, it's also the longest track on the soundtrack album.
  • Evil Counterpart: Lily might be this to Nina (that is the Black Swan to her White). Meanwhile, Nina frequently hallucinates a phantom doppelgänger that seems to mean her harm.
  • Excessive Evil Eyeshadow: The ballet company's interpretation of the black swan. The white swan in contrast only has a bit of white makeup.
  • Extreme Doormat: Nina, in the beginning. Were she not insane the film could be the story of a shy girl finding her confidence.
  • Facial Horror: Beth and the nail file...
  • Fade to White: An Aronofsky trademark.
  • False Friend: Nina sees Lily as this, but in truth she isn't false and may not even be a friend.
  • Fanservice / Fan Disservice:
    • Natalie Portman gets a lot of what would be fan-servicey shots depending on how you view these scenes, especially since she is so thin that she looks almost corpse-like.
    • The scene where Nina is masturbating is either extremely hot or extraordinarily uncomfortable. Even the much-anticipated lesbian sex scene is designed to repel rather than titillate the audience though some do see it as the latter.
    • There's also the old guy on the train who starts masturbating to Nina.
  • 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 Fettered / The Unfettered: Nina and Lily.
  • Fingore: To the extreme.
    • 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.
    • Nina slamming her mother's fingers in the door.
  • Foil: Nina to Lily.
  • Forced Transformation: In parallel with the plot of Swan Lake, Nina seems to think she is actually turning into a swan.
  • 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.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Despite being French, Thomas only speaks it when he's really mad. He speaks the language to some of the French dancers when he's unhappy with their work.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • At one point, Nina goes into her mother's painting gallery by herself. A painting's eyes move just for an instant...
    • Pay attention to the mirror right behind Nina during the exact same scene, and you will see that her mirror self is moving just a tad faster away from the door than her...
    • Nina's rash in a place that's commonly associated with wings.
    • The Icarus statue from the party scene.
    • The club scene pretty much tells you the entire film if you go through the scene more slowly, and hints that Nina was more than a little unhinged to begin with.
    • Listen carefully to Thomas' narration in the scene where they're rehearsing the finale of Swan Lake on set for the first time. It gives you a pretty good idea of what happens at the end.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Several times:
    • 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. The sequence 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.
    • 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.
      • This link provides every example.
    • When Nina notices that her reflection is out of step with her, she moves her arm to confirm what she's seeing. The reflection in front of her doesn't move, but the one behind her does.
    • The rash on Nina's back is only seen by her. In all other scenes, like when she's being measured for her costume, it's not visible. Not only does this tell us that this is yet another hallucination, it tells you every scene with her mother is too—remember that there are several scenes when she asks her about it.
    • 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.)
  • French Jerk: Thomas ticks quite a few boxes. He might even be considered Mr. Fanservice, although in a twisted sort of way.
  • 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 it 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.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Invoked by Natalie Portman herself as a reason why people should go see the movie. In-universe, if Thomas knows about Nina and Lily's Les Yay, he doesn't seem to mind all that much.
  • Girls Love Stuffed Animals: As part of her downward spiral into madness Nina throws all of her stuffed animals in the trash.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Nina smiles in bliss as she bleeds out on a mattress at the end of the ballet.
    It was perfect... I was perfect...
  • Good All Along: Lily's last scene where she congratulates Nina's great performance and apologizes for their previous fallout seem to suggest that Lily's bitchiness was all in Nina's head.
  • Good Bad Girl: Lily enjoys casual sex, drinking, and drugs, but she's a very kind person, and doesn't seem weirded out when Nina accidentally confesses to having had a Homoerotic Dream about her. Even all her seemingly bitchy moments were imagined by Nina. She really is as nice as she acts.
  • Haunted Heroine
  • Homage: In addition to Swan Lake, there's also some to Edgar Allan Poe's William Wilson, about a man with an opposite-natured doppelganger.
  • Homoerotic Dream: Lily and Nina's sex scene. Possibly.
  • I Have My Ways: Used, then immediately subverted by Lily, when she visits Nina.
    Nina: How do you know where I live?
    Lily: I have my ways. (notices Nina's nervousness) Jesus, relax! I got it from Susie in the office.
  • I Just Want to Be You: Nina to Beth.
  • Identity Breakdown: The entire is Nina having one as she struggles to prepare for the dual role in Swan Lake. She struggles to reconcile her personality with the demands of the role, eventually becoming paranoid to the point of hallucinating an Evil Counterpart that is the manifestation of the Black Swan persona she both seeks and represses. This reaches its climax at the end when Nina embraces the Black Swan persona and performs the role, until she collapses mid-performance as she is bleeding out from a self-inflicted stab wound she gave herself while hallucinating.
  • Imaginary Friend: Lily does exist (probably), but it's not clear if all of Nina's interactions with her actually happened.
  • The Ingenue: Nina appears to be a straight example, at first, but it soon becomes clear that she's still deeply unhappy with her "good girl" life because of her mother's smothering. Also, absolutely insane.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • "Sweet girl."
    • "My little princess."
    • "I want to be perfect."
  • Jerkass: Thomas, in spades. Veronica probably counts too, being bitchy and snooty towards Nina.
    • Thomas however does show shades of Jerk with a Heart of Gold, especially towards the end where he shows genuine concern over Nina's injury. While he's a bit crass too, he really just wants Nina to be more spontaneous and less timid.
  • 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.
  • The Killer in Me: Again, possibly.
  • Kill the Cutie: Although it's not explicit.
  • The Last Dance: After discovering her hallucination was not real and that she ended up stabbing herself, rather than get medical attention Nina decides to finish the dance.
  • 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.
  • Lost in Character: One possible interpretation of Nina trying so hard to be the Black Swan, is she utterly loses herself in the part.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: Invoked. Nina is challenged by this in both her performance and in real life: she's expected to be pure and innocent like the white swan to please her mother, but also passionate and sensual like the black swan to improve as a dancer. Suffice to say, there is no "Grey Swan" so to speak.
  • Man Bites Man: Thomas forcibly kisses Nina. She bites him. This prompts him to give her the White/Black Swan role.
  • Masturbation Means Sexual Frustration:
    • Nina masturbates on Thomas's instruction, and it's portrayed as a very big deal. While Nina is supposed to be that sexually repressed, there's no suggestion that masturbation might be part of a normal sex life, especially for women.
    • Lily implies that this is what actually happened when Nina imagined that they had sex, as a replacement for Nina's own thwarted sexuality.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • 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 color 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, bathroom, 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.
    • Nina herself is quite pretty. She even gets two masturbation scenes that take place in the bed and the bathtub respectively, as well as a lesbian sex scene with Lily.
  • My Beloved Smother: Nina's mother, Erica. Nina still lives with her and she treats Nina like a child to an absolutely disturbing degree. Erica expressed disapproval when she thinks Nina has pierced her ears, let alone when Nina admits she had casual sex with two men. She also undresses her adult daughter, clips her fingernails for her, and puts her to bed every night.
    Nina: Don't come in here!
    Erica: (struggling to open Nina's bedroom door) What's this?
    Nina: It's called privacy! I'm not twelve anymore!
    Erica: You're not my Nina right now!
    Nina: Leave me alone!
  • Mood-Swinger: Erica... has some issues.
  • Mood Whiplash: Several, but none more severe than when Nina is first doing her homework and rolls over to find her mother sleeping in an armchair next to her.
  • Narcissist: Beneath her many insecurities and generally meek behavior, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    Thomas: The only person standing in your way is you.
  • 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.
  • Nothing Nice About Sugar and Spice: Invoked. Nina sees Lily like this for being overly sexual and liberated, and begins to imagine that Lily is out to sabotage the more traditional 'good girl' Nina. But played with. Lily never seemed to have any particular ill will towards Nina and it was Nina herself who ended up losing her mind and stabbing herself, not attacking or harming Lily in any way.
  • Not Right in the Bed: Or is it?
  • Of Course I'm Not a Virgin: Nina says she's not, but it's all but outright stated she's lying.
  • Oh, Crap!: Nina wakes up and begins to masturbate. Just as she nears climax, 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.
  • The Ophelia: Take a guess.
  • The Perfectionist: Nina's Fatal Flaw.
  • Pink Is Erotic: Nina Salyers' bedroom is mostly covered in pink and it's the first place where she masturbates until she stops after noticing that her mother is there.
  • Plot-Based Voice Cancellation: During the "Night of Terror" an argument between Nina and Erica is drowned out by Nina's music box.
  • Popularity Cycle: It is emphasized over and over that only one dancer can be top of Thomas's estimation for any period of time and, due to the physical and time pressures on ballerinas, it's always a fairly short time. At first it's Beth, but when she grows too old and is forced to quit, Thomas completely abandons her, and causes her to go the way of Went Crazy When They Left, ultimately smashing her own leg in to be free of her own ambition. Nina then fights her way into Thomas's affections to win the role of the Swan Queen, but is almost immediately threatened by her alternate Lily, who Thomas constantly contrasts with the uptight Nina. When Nina finally gives a brilliant performance, Thomas calls her his "little princess", his nickname for Beth, highlighting that she's taken on Beth's role - and it may end the same way unless it really was just a Dying Dream.
  • Precision F-Strike: Nina uses profanity only once in the film, to shock her mother:
    Erica: What else have you been doing?
    Nina: Oh, you want to know their names?
    Erica: You need to sleep this off.
    Nina: No, there were two. There was Tom, there was Jerry.
    Erica: Be quiet, Nina!
    Nina: And I fucked them both!
  • Prima Donna Director: Thomas is extremely demanding and sleeps with his prima ballerinas as a matter of course.
  • Prone to Tears: There's a reason Thomas says Nina is perfect for Odette, the White Swan.
  • Psychological Thriller: The primary genre, though some people regard it as a horror flick, possibly due to the sheer amount of Nightmare Fuel and Mind Screw.
  • Really Gets Around: Lily seems to have no compunctions about casual, no-strings-attached sex. Assuming Nina isn't imagining the encounters. Or having them herself.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning:
    • The sclera of Nina's eyes turn red in the transformation scenes during the "Night of Terror" sequence, starting when she 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.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Erica's room full of paintings.
  • Rule of Symbolism: All over the place. Exactly what the symbolism is in certain scenes depends on your interpretation, however.
  • Sanity Slippage: Judging from how prevalent this trope is in the plot, Black Swan should have been called Sanity Slippage: The Movie!
  • Screw Yourself: Possibly.
  • Serious Business: Swan Lake, of course. Lampshaded when Tom and Jerry can't even pretend to be interested.
  • Shadow Archetype: Lily to Nina. Nina projects her repressed sexuality onto Lily, until she can't tell the difference between that and the real Lily.
  • Sheep in Sheep's Clothing: Lily. She's introduced as a friendly, likable girl who wants to befriend Nina... and she is. It's Nina's paranoia and delusions that make her seem like she's not. Outside of Nina's head, she really is as nice as she appears.
  • Shout-Out: Nina hallucinating that she's transforming during the 'Night of Terror' sequence is rather reminiscent of the transformation in The Fly (1986).
    • Possibly coincidental, but the scene where Nina flips out, destroys her room and throws out her stuffed animals - in addition to struggling with a Madonna-Whore Complex and becoming (or trying to become) A Darker Me - is reminiscent of the scene in Batman Returns where Selina Kyle becomes Catwoman.
  • Single-Issue Psychology: Averted. It's pretty clear that Nina had an assload of issues even before the role drove her over the edge.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Winona Ryder (though she appears in the international trailer).
  • Slasher Smile: Evil Nina unleashes a horrifying one during the bath scene. Later, after returning home from the club, Nina flashes one, too.
  • 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. 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 Sequel: See above.
  • 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 adult 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.
  • Spooky Painting: Erica paints these over and over and over again!
  • Stage Mom: Erica. She attempts to live through her daughter and represses Nina's sexuality, because getting pregnant with Nina ruined her own ballet career.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Lily, maybe. And/or Nina. It's that sort of film.
  • Stepford Smiler: Nina, and to an extent, her mother as well.
  • The Stinger: Audio example: When the ending credits finish rolling, wingbeats can be heard.
  • Stocking Filler: Lily wears garters in her and Nina's sex scene. Though it might have not happened.
  • Straight to the Pointe: Averted. An early scene shows the effects of dancing en pointe have on Nina's feet.
  • Stress Vomit: After Nina hallucinates the presence of Beth in her kitchen, she hurls into the toilet.
  • Surreal Horror: Plenty, especially in the "Night of Terror" sequence.
  • Swans A-Swimming: Comes with the framing device.
  • Talent Double: Ballet dancer Sarah Lane was the "dance double" for Natalie Portman. Mila Kunis had one, too. Some issues have arisen from this.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Lampshaded by Lily after Nina defends Thomas' Jerkass behavior.
    • 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. It's deconstructed when explicitly told by Thomas that she needs to be both to play the Swan Queen because the best actor can do both.
  • Technicolor Eyes: On some close-ups, you can see that Thomas has central heterochromia.
  • That Man Is Dead:
    Erica: What happened to my sweet girl?
    Nina: She's gone!
  • There Are No Therapists: You'd think someone watching Nina's behavior, or hell, Nina herself, might decide somewhere along the way that this girl needs a little help?
  • The Three Faces of Eve:
    • Erica, Nina's mother, is a deconstruction of the "wife". She's a nagging single mother who cossets Nina at home yet simultaneously chips away at her confidence.
    • Lily is the seductress. She's portrayed as extremely sexual and flirty with Thomas and all the other men in the company. And Nina, though to what extent this is real is left ambiguous.
    • Nina herself is the child. She's portrayed as extremely naive and repressed, but stuck between Erica's domineering personality and Lily's free sexuality.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Nina hallucinates frequently as a result of her mental illness, leaving much of the film unclear as to what's real or not.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Nina's mother believes Lily to be this but Nina doesn't buy it and joins Lily at the bar.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Post-Oscar-Nomination commercials show Nina's transformation.
    • Heck, even the first trailer for it showed Nina picking a feather from her skin, whilst staring at it with a crazed look in her eyes.
  • Training from Hell: What all the ballerinas, but especially Nina, are subjected to in preparation of the performance. It... doesn't help Nina's mental well-being.
  • Transformation Exhilaration: Throughout the film, Nina experiences Sanity Slippage while preparing to dance in Swan Lake, and hallucinates herself beginning to turn into the titular swan. Though she's horrified by it at first, as her personality turns darker over the course of the film, she ends up embracing the change during her final performance, sprouting feathers and wings while she performs a passionate ballet. Of course, since it all happens in her head, the audience assumes she's simply that powerful a ballerina, and erupt with thundering applause.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: See Stage Mom above.
  • White Shirt of Death: Nina herself at the end.
  • 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: Inverted. 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.
  • You Need to Get Laid: The reason why Thomas assigns Nina "homework."