FILM PLOT & INTRODUCTION
Darren Aronofksy’s Black Swan is a psychological thriller following obsessive ballerina, Nina (Natalie Portman) as she trains for her starring role as both the white and black swan of “Swan Lake” and struggles to hold onto her sanity as the tension rises. One of my favorite films, I’m going to review this under the lens of Clinical Psychology.
INTRODUCTION AND ANALYSIS
Nina, a young, beautiful woman with the mind and innocence of a young child, maintains uptight perfectionism and compulsive behaviors in ballet. Desperate to break through from the Corps De Ballet she auditions for Swan Lake and is initially told although she is perfect for the white swan, (otherwise known as Odette in Swan Lake) she is too sweet and fragile for the role of the black swan (Odile). After new girl, Lily arrives into town from San Francisco, Nina’s perception is conflicted, viewing Lily to be both an enemy out for her role and a role model to the type of loosened up, devious spirit expected of the black swan.
Nina eventually wins the role but she is unable to let go of her constant quest for perfection in a body and mind she sees riddled with imperfections. Rather than embody the hypnotic, free-spirit of the black swan, Nina disappoints the director as she continues to portray fear in failure and perceived flaws in the fragility expected of the white swan.
Throughout the dark film, Nina’s mental health severely deteriorates and neither the character or the audience are able to decipher between reality and hallucinations. The constant tension between Nina, Lily, and the ballet’s brilliant director Tomas ignites a collapse in her stability and a clash within her identity as she searches for the darkness and grittiness within her naïve and feeble persona. By the end, the character finally gains the ability to let go of the restrictions she has put upon herself and allows herself to be consumed and awakened by the black swan. Letting go of her limitations, she gives her best performance impressing the audience and the strict director. The films ends just as “Swan Lake” does with Nina unintentionally killing herself after a tragic realization. And, it isn’t until she is close to death that she feels she has succeeded on her quest towards perfection.
The film is entertaining and though the plot may be unique in cinema, the unhealthy obsession in ballet and other athletic fields is not. There are a few issues in the film which are commonly found in athletic and artistic fields which can provoke a mental breakdown. Nina appears to be suffering from an eating disorder, she is thin, rarely eats, and in a few scenes she is vomiting or attempting to vomit. She has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder leading to the company’s director Tomas to comment that Nina “obsesses over and over, getting each move exactly right.” Nina suffers from Excoriation disorder, a component of OCD, where one constantly picks and scratches at the skin. The combination of these disorders in addition to the extreme stress and pressure of winning the starring role of Swan Queen primes Nina for a mental collapse.
Nina is never diagnosed but after rewatching the film a few times, depending on the timeline of her psychotic episode, she may be suffering from Schizophreniform Disorder, a disorder lasting a few months, or a Brief Psychotic Disorder which lasts only one month. These disorders cause the individual to hear auditory hallucinations, see visual hallucinations, and possess a delusional disorder where one thinks someone is constantly after them.
In addition to being pushed to her limits physically and mentally in ballet, Nina comes home every night to a small apartment she shares with her mother Erica who is both controlling and depressed. Erica spends her evenings obsessing over Nina’s activities, dressing her, feeding her, sleeping in her bedroom, and crying to portraits of herself. These extremely depressing traits and lack of boundaries are an enormous factor to the disorders and unhealthy behaviors found in Nina. At work, Nina is constantly watched, analyzed, and scrutinized by the director and other dancers which contributes to her eating disorder and eventually her obsessive-compulsive disorder. This obsession in maintaining her physical appearance, losing weight, and gaining artistic perfection, doesn’t leave room for a social life, confining Nina within a box filled with her own unhealthy thoughts and toxic role models.
Although the underlying issues of Nina point to a mental health diagnosis of Schizophreniform Disorder, the audience can’t entirely trust that either. Isn’t it possible that someone can suffer a nervous breakdown from constant pressure? Isn’t it possible that someone who doesn’t eat anything and dances for hours, day in and day out, can start suffering from vivid hallucinations from brief madness brought about by constant, daily stress where one is constantly failing and nothing is ever right?
Black Swan represents the unrealistic expectations of beauty, perfection and artistry and the cost upon a performer’s mental and physical health, classifying the film, in my opinion, to be both a creative blessing and a realistic tragedy.