Nina, a young and upcoming ballerina, is chosen to play the dual role of the White and Black Swans in a new production of Swan Lake. She becomes obsessed with her portrayal of the Black Swan, losing herself in the process. As she rehearses for the big night, Nina’s rival Lily starts to edge her out of the spotlight. In a moment of sheer terror, Nina has a hallucination that she has been replaced by Lily as the Black Swan. Driven to perfection, Nina pushes herself harder and harder until she finally cracks completely.
Mysterious and gloomy, frightening and incomprehensible, the film “Black Swan” sheds light on the life of a ballerina, combining brutal realism with equally violent fantasy. In terms of the depth of psychologism, the film masterpiece of Darren Aronofsky is often compared with “Fight Club,” and there is perhaps even more controversy over the meaning of the “Black Swan.” An accurate and definitive answer to the question “What is the essence of this film?” is no and cannot be: real art always leaves room for interpretation. But this article will be of interest to anyone who has set out to clarify for himself the essence of the film “Black Swan”: in it we have collected several famous (and not so) options for interpreting the meaning.
“Black Swan” is a tragedy of growing up and discovering sexuality.
One of the possible interpretations of the meaning of the film “Black Swan” is the interpretation of the plot as Nina’s path to adulthood. “Mom, I’m 28 years old!” Nina exclaims in one of the scenes, but biological age doesn’t mean anything – in fact, the heroine still feels like a small child, her sexuality is entirely undeveloped, and she doesn’t know how to answer the question Tom, “Do you like sex?”. Nina’s success in ballet is not so much a sign of her work on herself as an adult, conscious person, but the result of following her mother’s instructions. When, finally, Toma demands emancipation from Nina, Nina falls into something similar to a transitional age.
Let’s remember how Nina behaves with her mother at the beginning of the film. A mother can calmly undress her adult daughter to examine the injury on her shoulder. The mother feeds the girl, who is perfectly capable of making her own breakfast. The mother keeps her daughter under control, even when she is not around, with constant phone calls. Nina’s room looks more like a nursery because of the abundance of plush toys – it seems as if the last rearrangement here was at least twenty years ago. The mother enters her daughter’s bedroom without asking and watches her fall asleep. Is it worth it to continue? All this together can be described as a delay in the development of Nina – despite her success in ballet, and emotionally, she is still a child.
Since Nina herself does not make any attempts to grow up, Lily and Tom do it for her. Tom gives her “homework” – to masturbate, Lily goes further and takes the girl to the club. Lily’s visit is exciting from the point of view of this interpretation: remember how Lily persuades Nina to go to the club with her while Nina’s mother tries to keep the girl at home? Such a scene in real life could happen to a schoolgirl, but not to an adult girl. Nina is going through a transitional age, which is even more pronounced when the girls return from the club: Nina boasts to her mother about her “exploits,” trying to hurt her with words as painfully as possible, as teenagers usually do during puberty.
Throughout the film, Nina never manages to fully experience the pleasure of masturbation, just as she fails to completely “let go of herself” for the role of the Black Swan. But in the finale, it finally happens – and we are faced with deep symbolism again. Tom constantly insists that Nina – the White Swan – is pure and innocent. In the final scene, blood oozes from an open wound on Nina’s body – this is a metaphor for the first menstruation (growing up) or the loss of innocence. Following this, Nina, dying, says: “I felt perfection.” “Perfection” here can mean an orgasm, a moment of supreme pleasure, which for Nina was embodied not physically, but spiritually through ballet art. Thus, in the finale, Nina parted with both childhood and innocence, finally finding her sexuality.
It should be noted that in the memoirs of real ballerinas the theme of sexuality, growing up is not the last. Ballerinas often feel like “not real” women because of their “childish” figures – thin, light, with undeveloped breasts. Both men and women associated with ballet are often bisexual; in addition, a ballerina’s career often crosses out a woman’s right to create a family and have a child – thus, one has to choose between “simple female happiness” and the desire to become a star. Although this conflict is not expressed in the film because there are no contenders for Nina’s heart in the frame, this theme can be traced between the lines.
“Black Swan” – a poem without a hero
A superficial analysis of the film may lead to the conclusion that Nina, carried away by the desired role, loses control over herself and her personality. That’s fair, but…was Nina a complete person from the start? Paradoxically, it is the main character of the Black Swan film that has the least resistance and will among all its characters. Let’s look at the events in chronology.
From the very first frames, we see that Nina’s life does not belong to her. Nina’s mother is a failed ballet star whose career ended with the birth of her daughter. No, the mother does not blame the heroine; instead, she decides to “continue” her career through her daughter. However, there is nothing exceptional here yet: many parents, and you probably know more than one example of this, are trying to realize their own youthful dreams through the fate of their children. Nina’s mother, however, succeeded in this: her daughter’s life is entirely under her control, and now Nina is already one step away from the peak of her fame … However, here the mother loses control: the daughter gets out of obedience, but only to pass into the wrong hands.
Nina never gains control over her own life because, having barely escaped from her mother’s hedgehogs (an important metaphor: when she drives her mother out of the room, Nina injures her hand, symbolically freeing herself from her grip), the girl falls under the power of another strong personality – Tom. Note that Tom does not even try to create the illusion that he wants Nina to go her own way to fame. Instead, he makes her repeat the path of another ballerina – Beth, with whom Nina shares a dressing room. And Nina herself is not at all against this: she adores Beth to the point that she steals the things of the famous ballerina. This says a lot about Nina: she does not dream of her career. She only wants to repeat what Beth did, as if to turn into her. In other words, she will not cultivate her personality – she would like to steal someone else’s.
So, Toma skillfully manages Nina, playing on her love of ballet. It seems to Nina (and the audience) that she is captured and destroyed by art, but in fact it is the will of strangers that controls her life. Toma actively helps Lily: she makes Nina fulfill her whims, and she does not dare to resist – even being sure that Lily mixed the drug into her drink, Nina unquestioningly obeys her friend and drinks it. Nina is absolutely incapable of being responsible for her actions, she is subject to impulses and what other people tell her.
There is a curious interpretation of the meaning of the film “Black Swan” from the point of view of psychoanalysis. In it, the characters of the film are treated as psychological entities. The central image – Nina – represents the ego, our social self, which is in contact with the outside world. In Freud’s concept, Nina’s mother is the Super-I – a part of the personality that regulates human behavior and establishes ideals, rules, and prohibitions. After all, this is precisely what Nina’s mother does in the film – she controls her daughter and evaluates her in terms of compliance with specific regulatory frameworks. Nina’s mentor, Tom, embodies another Freudian entity – It. It is the unconscious, dark, irrational instincts of the personality. Finally, Lily is Nina’s alter ego, her dark counterpart.
The two central images of Swan Lake, the white swan and the black swan, symbolize self-control and sex, respectively. In Nina’s mind, these two instincts come into conflict, destroying the girl’s psyche from the inside. Instead of recognizing the right to peaceful coexistence in her of both parts of her personality, Nina tries to suppress first one (remember, at the beginning of the film the girl completely submits to pressure from her mother and her own discipline), and then the other side of her personality. But to become a full-fledged person, she needed to “make friends” black and white in her soul. Nina could not do this – this ruined the girl.
This interpretation of the essence of The Black Swan is based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music. In this work, the philosopher explores the dual nature of art, in particular ancient art. According to Nietzsche, ancient Greek art has two beginnings: Apollonian – harmonious, calm, bright and optimistic, and Dionysian – dark, chaotic, tragic. Nietzsche notes that music is related primarily to the Dionysian beginning. However, in one way or another, both beginnings are inextricably linked; they oppose in the artist’s soul, side by side on the canvas, Dionysian and Apollonian motifs sound in any music.
It is easy to guess that from this point of view, in Nina’s soul, there is a struggle between these two principles – the Apollonian (the purity of the white swan, the mathematical accuracy of the ballerina’s movements) and the Dionysian (a drunken party with Lily, passion, jealousy).
The image of ancient Greek mythology most closely associated with Nina is Icarus. Let me briefly recall the legend of Icarus: he and his father Daedalus provoked the wrath of the ruler of Crete, Minos. Daedalus invented an elegant way to escape from the persecution of Minos: he made wings from bird feathers glued together with wax. On them, father and son were supposed to fly away from the island. Daedalus warned his son not to hold too high, otherwise the sun might melt the wax and the wings would fall apart. Icarus, however, did not listen to his father and died.
We see how the story of father and son is reflected in the plot of the Black Swan, only here we have mother and daughter. Nina’s mother is trying in every possible way to protect her daughter from the outside world; perhaps, her fears have a reason. Most likely, the woman knows that her daughter’s psyche is unstable and therefore tries to introduce a strict routine into her life so that Nina cannot have the slightest reason to break. However, the mother fails to save Nina from the pressure of the outside world, and in pursuit of perfection, the ballerina dies, just as Icarus was killed in the quest for the sun. Like Icarus, Nina gains wings in the final scene; like Icarus, these wings bring her death.
Analysis of the film “Black Swan” from a medical point of view
An interesting question worth sorting out is what is happening with Nina from a medical point of view. The girl develops two conflicting personalities – many viewers boldly concluded: this is schizophrenia! In fact, as psychiatrists note, the symptoms shown in the film are more reminiscent of psychosis. Psychosis is a mental disorder in which a person loses touch with reality. Various events can provoke psychosis – more than enough of them happen in Nina’s life. And her unhealthy relationship with her mother, Tom’s harassment, and competition for the role – even individually, these stressful situations can cause a mental breakdown.
However, in reality, psychosis most often causes auditory rather than visual hallucinations. Nina is haunted by nightmare visions. This factual error can be explained by the fact that auditory hallucinations in the film would not be as vivid and revealing as visual images.
In addition to the pronounced symptoms of psychosis, Nina has several other disorders (at least hints of them): anorexia, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and a tendency to harm herself. Psychiatrists note that the likelihood of developing all these ailments at the same time in one person tends to zero. The fact is that psychosis is an escape from reality. Still, bulimia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, on the contrary, are formed in people who are too attached to reality and a particular idea.
Finally, the last argument in favor of the fact that, from a medical point of view, Aronofsky made a lot of errors is Nina’s speech. Could a girl with such a bunch of mental disorders accurately perform the most challenging ballet part? According to experts, this is almost impossible. But we, of course, allow for the fact that Aronofsky did not try to portray the history of the disease, but only embodied on the screen a metaphor for the ballerina’s creative path.
Meaning of the movie “Black Swan.”
The film in one of the interpretations is seen as the way of the maturing ballerina Nina. In one of the scenes, a girl exclaims to her mother that she is already an adult and 28 years old. But sometimes age is not an indicator of growing up.
In the physical sense, the girl has really become an adult, but on a psychological level, she is still a child. The development of her sexuality stopped at zero. When Tom asks the usual question about whether she likes sex, she doesn’t even have anything to say.
Nina’s success in her ballet activities is not a recognition of her achievements, but rather it is the observance of the detailed instructions of an experienced mother. At a time when Nina is being asked to be liberated, she is, in a sense, beginning to experience transitional adolescence.
It should be remembered how the girl behaves with her mother at the beginning. A mother, without any protests or explanations, can take off her clothes from her long-grown-up daughter to look at the wound on her shoulder and feed the girl, although she can take care of herself and make breakfast.
Mother control is everywhere. Without a girl at home, she tries to keep everything under power at a distance by calling her daughter. Even the girl’s room is furnished as if she were some schoolgirl – everything is in pink, plush toys in every corner.
Mom enters her daughter’s bedroom without any problems, without asking permission, and watching her daughter get into bed and sleep. Should I continue? All this situation, the behavior of the mother and daughter make it clear that Nina has not grown emotionally, although she has achieved success professionally.
Every character in the film understands and takes their own sexuality for granted. But Nina rejects this part of her personality.
Nina does not want to do anything on her own to become a psychological adult, and Tom and Lily begin to push her toward this. The choreographer gave the girl a “homework assignment” and asked her to masturbate at home to reveal her sexuality.
Lily does something different – she drags the ballerina into a nightclub. In the film, the scene where Lily comes to Nina’s house reflects that the girl is not allowed to grow up. Lily persuades Nina to go to the club to relax, while her mother tries to keep the girl from nightly adventures.
In reality, a similar situation would happen with a girl, but not a 28-year-old girl. Nina has a late transitional age, which is evident after she returned home from the club. She begins to brag to her mother about the so-called “exploits” she managed to accomplish.
She did this to hook her mother, to hurt her. Such behavior is typical only for adolescents during puberty.
During the film, Nina does not fully enjoy the process of masturbation, she fails to “liberate” herself entirely to get better used to the role of the Black Swan.
However, in the final scenes, she still manages to fully feel herself and become a full-fledged person who combines the two halves she needs. This is what symbolism is all about.
Tom claims that Nina has the purity and innocence of the White Swan. In the final scene, you can see that blood is seeping from the wound on Nina’s stomach. Such a sign is symbolic and means a moment of growing up (menstruation) or the loss of innocence of the body.
Then in the finale, Nina says before she dies: “I felt perfection.” Such “perfection” is understood as a moment of the highest pleasure or an orgasm, embodied spiritually for a girl with ballet’s help. At these moments, Nina parted with her childish part, grows up, “loses her innocence,” and acquires a full-fledged sexuality.
The scene where Nina spends the night with Lily is just a figment of the girl’s fantasy against the background of the beginning madness. In the morning, Lily says that she was with a guy at night, not with her.
Real ballerinas often touch upon themes of sexuality and growing up. Many complain that they cannot become “real” women because their figures – thin, light and with underdeveloped breasts – interfere with them.
Men and women dancing in ballet often show their bisexuality. Also, the ballerina must choose between a career and the usual right of a woman – to start a family and give birth to a child.
Of the above, only one is possible – either the happiness of family life and the opportunity to be a mother, or the career of a ballerina. Reality shows that these two positions cannot be combined at the same time.
Despite the absence in the film of a direct struggle for the heart of the main character, nevertheless, these topics are touched upon and become understandable to the viewer.