Skip to main content

See also:

The essence of 'Black Swan'

Black Swan movie (2010)


"Black Swan" is an impressively original interpretation of the classic ballet, ‘Swan Lake’, a story about a young princess who falls in love, and ultimately finds peace in death because her lover is stolen from her by her evil counterpart, the black swan. The framework of the story represents both a literal and a metaphorical transformation of the story’s protagonist, Nina Sayers, from the fragile beauty she represents in the beginning, to the dark queen she transcends into when she embraces her dark psyche, the black swan.

Natalie Portman as the swan princess
Fox Searchlight Pictures, Crosscreek Pictures

The psychological splintering of Nina’s character stems from her imbalanced perception of control. There are three ways this is illustrated. First, Nina’s behavior denotes an almost ritualistic compulsion in the extreme manner in which she handles preparing both her physical appearance and her style of dancing. The second element of control which is shown in Nina’s story is found in the opposing forms of control impressed upon Nina by her mother and her teacher. While Nina’s mother seeks to control every detail of Nina’s life and keep her an innocent child forever, her teacher, Thomas, impresses upon Nina that she should let go of control and allow herself the freedom to express her passion in her art instead of the perfection.

The final element of obsessive control which is demonstrated is the psychological battle being waged between Nina’s true reality and the distorted identity which penetrates Nina’s psyche and progressively worsens as she grows closer to her psychological destruction. Preceding her metamorphosis, Nina repeatedly discovers mysterious wounds on her body which defy explanation. While at first, the wounds appear to be caused by accidental injury, I believe the wounds are an understated metaphor utilized to illustrate the dark queen within Nina whose essence represents the strong and beautiful, woman who yearns to be free. The distortions grow more powerful as Nina’s psychological insecurities grow, and she begins seeing visions of the second identity in her reflection. Nina’s journey reaches a climax with her final transformation into the black swan.

The psychological break symbolizes a double meaning. As a dancer, Nina masters both sides of the swan princess: the innocent, white swan and the powerful black swan. The idea of the gradual, psychological break suggests in a sense that Nina is the metaphorical swan waging her own battle with her inner turmoil. The character of Lily represents the opposing psyche that Nina battles – the dark princess within her that yearns to be free. The consummation of Nina’s transformation is achieved when, by destroying Lily, she destroys the part of herself that she has been battling and ultimately finds the peace that she yearns for.

"Black Swan" is a movie which leaves one of two impressions on the audience. The depth and power of the storytelling and the sensual nature of Nina’s character will either impress or repel the audience. Nina’s character is one whom many women in particular may relate to, as they can perhaps empathize with what she is experiencing, though their own resolution may not take them to the extreme that Nina goes to in order to find her own inner peace. If one can appreciate the psychology and artistic beauty of the movie, then ‘Black Swan’ is a movie that is well worth your time.