Black Swan (2010)

A great post by Fogs reminded me that there’s an awsome movie out there that should really make an appearance in my blog: Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. But, since I already have a 8 pages long paper I wrote last year about this film, I thought… Why not? Don’t worry, I’m not going to copy and paste all the 8 pages. Let’s say that this is an edited edition for blogs. Enjoy!

Black Swan conveys disturbing feelings by blurring boundaries on three main levels: on the film genre, merging noir, musical, horror and drama; on the type of narration, eliminating any separation between dreams and reality; and on the characterʼs nature, putting together both the Femme Fatale and the Innocent Woman in just one character. The result is a nightmarish web in which the characters and the viewers are equally caught. But, unlike traditional noir, this time there is no one who can solve the mystery.[…][The opening scene/nightmare] foreshadows the entire movie, continually suspended between Ninaʼs will to be a perfect ballerina – a musicalʼs happy ending – and the “dark creatures” that haunts her, between (what is supposed to be) reality and what is not. Black Swanhas all of the elements to be a self-reflective musical: Ninaʼs desire to be a star, the relation with her choreographer, the rivalry with her colleague Lily (Mila Kunis), the music that suggests feelings and emotions and takes the characters – and us – into another dimension. But all of those elements are so contaminated by noir tropes – night setting, paranoia, violence, ambiguity, morbid sexuality – to the point of becoming the wicked version of themselves. It is the illusion of what could have been – and what we would have expected it to be – that creates a sense of general discomfort. The passage from the first sequence to Ninaʼs bedroom also foreshadows the constant shifting of the story from reality to dreams. As the movie goes on, boundaries between the two worlds get increasingly blurred. […] 

Throughout the whole movie, Ninaʼs double identity is emphasised by the use of mirrors. […] The psychoanalyst defines the “Ideal-I” as the young childʼs identification with his own image. This stage occurs before the babyʼs entrance into the language order and marks the recognition of the baby as an “I”, then establishing and “Imaginary Order” and characterizing the personʼs ego in all its structures, even after the subject enters into the symbolic order. According to Lacan, the “Imaginary Order” leads the human subject to create fantasy of both himself and an ideal object of desire. In fact, the “I” of he baby is defined as “Ideal” bacause it is an incomplete version of the self, a misrecognition that can be filled in by other peopleʼs images, mostly those we want to emulate ad we set up as a mirror for ourselves. So, the Real works in tension with the Imaginery and the Symbolic, which are inextricably intertwined. Applying this theory to Black Swan, we could say Nina needs to emulate Lily in order to become the Black Swan. Lily is Ninaʼs object of desire and, through her, she tries to plug a gap in her own way of being. But, in so doing, she creates a dark “Ideal-I” that she is not able to manage. In this context, reflective surfaces are placed everywhere in the movieʼs settings. Mirrors, of course, but also the stageʼs floor, subway windows and even water. But as we learn throughout the movie, they are also deceptive surface which seems to have their own perspective on the events. Actually, they do not reflect reality. They reflect Ninaʼs sick mind and inner ghosts. At the same time, we – as viewers – are forced to look at the events through two points of view: Ninaʼs perspective and the one of those reflective surfaces. And soon we realize that none of the two perspectives are reliable. Keeping this in mind, it is interesting to remark that all of the main characters are introduced to us through reflections: the first time we see the choreographer Thomas, is when Nina sees him reflected in a mirror of the rehearsing room. And the first time Nina sees Lily, is through the sliding door of a subway train. A posteriori, having finally understood that reflective surfaces should not be trusted, we start to question even the beginning, when everything seemed safe. As for mirrors, one good example is the one in Ninaʼs home, in front of which she uses to rehearse. The mirror is composed by three framed parts, each one supposed to reflect one side of the ballerina. When Nina dances in front of it, we can only see her reflection in the central part. But when she sits, two parts reflect her. At this point, we can see that, as a person, she is already ambiguous. As a dancer, instead, she is just “one” – the White Swan. The fact that mirrors reflects the way she is more than the way she appears, peaks in the final sequence (1:32:50 – 1:42:50). Nina has just danced the White Swan part, and now she is back to her dressing room in order to get ready to become her alter ego, the Black Swan. But in front of her mirror, she finds Lily, putting her make up on and ready to dance. At first, Nina sees Lilyʼs face only through the mirrorʼs reflection. But when the girl turns, and the two of them finally look at each other face to face, we find out that it is Nina herself who is in front of the mirror. It is at this point that (who is supposed to be) the real Nina fully embraces her dark side: she attacks the other one, pushing her into another mirror on the wall and smashing it. Then, taken away by a blind rage, she stabs the other Nina with a piece of glass, who soon turns out – again – to be Lily. What we have just seen in the mirror, is the projection of who Nina wants to be, her ideal “I”. By killing that ideal part of her, and by breaking the mirror, Nina finally embraces “the other” and ultimately becomes the Black Swan.

(From Paola Brembilla, “The Darkest Part of Noir – Black Swan and the Neo-Noir”, UCB 2011 – Film 108)