Black Swan: A Film Review And Interpretation
Black Swan Film Analysis
Black Swan, a film that Darren Aronofsky directed in 2010, stars Natalia Portman & Mila Kuniz. The story is told through Nina’s perspective, a young ballerina who is determined to excel in dance. When she was offered the role as the swan princess in the new ballet production by the ballet company, she felt overwhelmed and challenged. Her exploration of her darker side led to her losing control of reality and eventually falling into madness. This paper will discuss the use of mies en-scene in Black Swan.
The film opens with Swan Lake’s original soundtrack playing as background music. Black feathers appear on the screen. As the film title emerges, you hear the wind blowing and an eerie laugh. Although the same Tchaikovsky soundtrack is played throughout the film’s duration, the sounds that give the classical music an unusual twist have already established the suspenseful and creepy mood. We first see Nina, the protagonist. She is wearing a white ballet gown. Her back is facing the camera so her face is obscured. However, a spotlight highlights her side and illuminates her other side. The whole scene has a mysterious quality. A single light source illuminates one side of her face. To draw us into Nina’s private space as a dancer, this technique is repeated many times throughout the film. Except for the close ups of her feet in the final shot, the camera is probably held handheld throughout this entire scene. It circles Nina as if she is dancing and follows her movements. She drops to the earth at around 2:28. The backlight creates shadows that cast strong shadows. The shadows behind her suddenly reveal a predatory faceless figure, who follows Nina around and threatens her movements. As a sudden effect, Nina was grabbed by the monster-like figure. She dances towards the lights, trying to escape the camera, but she eventually falls prey to the black swan.
The opening scene of the film is significant as it establishes the black-versus-white symbolism. It also foreshadows the storyline. Nina’s fragile white dress and vulnerability symbolises her innocence. Nina’s surroundings are dark and dreary, which suggests that she is constantly in danger. The appearances of the monster may be symbolic of the terrifying twist in Nina’s life that threatens to endanger her.
Nina’s juxtaposition with Lily reveals the theme of dark and light colours. We can see Nina’s face flashing on Lily in moments. Lily represents Nina as her “shadow self,” or dark alter ego. White, grey, and pastel costumes signify a character’s virtue. Black, red, and dark shades indicate a character’s evil intentions or calculation. Nina views Lily as a challenger and always dresses in black. Nina does not wear any makeup onstage and dresses in light colours. Lily however, is black. Nina also has darker makeup, hair, skin, and hair than Nina. This image shows Lily as a mature, independent, and more sensual person than Nina. However, Nina’s transition can be seen in the way that Nina chooses her clothing.
Nina’s character development and transition are represented by colours. Nina’s first wake-up, Nina was dressed in a baby-pink eveninggown. All of her bedding, the breakfast fruit she ate, and all the naturalistic light coming through the windows have a pink powdery color. Nina later appears on the train in light grey sweatpants, a pale pink fluffy coat and light grey sweatpants, while everyone else is wearing black on the streets and on the train. Nina’s transitions gradually take place. Nina starts out in white, but soon she begins to wear red lipstick. Then she changes to greys and dark greys. Finally, she becomes the black Swan, wearing only black. As Nina transforms from a simple and quiet girl to a paranoid, crazy, independent black swan, this gradual change in Nina’s makeup and costume colours is a sign of her personality.
The film contains both non-diegetic sound and diegetic sounds, but the internal diegetic sounds play a more important role in shaping Nina’s character. At 52:10 in the club scene, Nina heard internal diegetic noises. All the voices and dance music sound muffled to show that Nina is being influenced by alcohol and drugs. When Nina believed she had brought Lily home, the dialogues between them were internal sounds that Nina could hear. As Nina’s mental health deteriorates, the same internal diegetic sounds are more common. She heard the whispering sound from her brain when she looked at the pictures on the mother’s wall around 1:07 :07. Nina transforms into the black bird at the movie’s climax, around 1:16.35. Nina only hears the continuous sound effect that Nina describes as feathers flapping, feathers moving and wind blowing. Although the sound isn’t very distinctive at first, it can be heard by Nina as imaginary black feathers and wings grow out of her body. The internal sound effects allow the audience to get a glimpse into Nina’s mad mind and experience her extreme paranoias, fear, and exaltation.
The film’s setting is carefully designed to reflect Nina’s personality and life. At 14:11, we see Nina’s room in the opening shot. The room has pink floral wallpaper, dolls, lace lampshades, and furnitures with cream colours. She is treated as a child by her mother in this particular scene. Her mother brushes her hair and tucks her in while she plays soothing lullaby. This scene reflects Nina’s innocence as well as the fact that Nina is being constrained and suppressed by external forces. The film uses mirrors in many places. This is another notable element. There are mirrors throughout the film, including large mirrors in Nina’s apartment where she regularly practices, mirrors in her dressing and fitting rooms, practice rooms, and train mirrors. Many mirror scenes feature Nina’s faces reflected in the mirrors. As such, the audience might see multiple faces of Nina. Nina once had her fitting and one of her reflections gains independence. She can also act without Nina. Mirrors can therefore be seen as Nina’s dual personality and split personality. They also show how her two sides are fighting. Mirrors also emphasize Nina’s absurd obsession with perfectionism and looking flawless.
This film’s editing style is quite typical for thriller/horror movies. As scenes intensify and suspense builds the pace of this film increases, so does its pace. The editing style is fast-paced with quick cuts to each shot. Lily, for example, is first shown as a character when the camera follows her along the train. It then quickly cuts to Nina’s front and then cuts again to the back. This not only shows Nina’s urgency to reach the studio, but also gives the impression that Lily is important. This technique can also be used during Nina and Lily’s sexual fantasy scene. The scene cuts quickly between Nina and Lily’s faces. After their hands touch, they speed up to a mini climax. Nina’s POV shots show her being smothered at the hands of her evil doppelganger. The key is that the cutting process will speed up and each shot takes less time.
This film uses some very unusual framing and shot placement techniques. Nina was separated from the rest of the dancers by having the wall placed behind her. This framing, with Nina’s hand gestures and the sudden silence, shows her isolation and her inability to be in the same frame as the others. You can also see the body parts, such as hands and feet, in close-ups. Nina’s facial expressions are often highlighted by having her face shown large. A close-up of Nina’s fearful expression when she fell on the stage to dance the white swan is shown, for example. At 13:43, when she was still dancing in her bedroom, her feet were shot close-up. The footage is then cut to slow-motion so that each turn’s strength and delicateness are highlighted. This scene also has shock value as she nearly twists her ankle during the slow motion.
The camera is usually following Nina or showing her point-of-view, but there are a few different shots. Nina is being lifted up by her partner in the air at 1:13:10. Nina’s body, facial expressions and surroundings are all in the exact same place. Because she is spinning in midair, the camera must be attached to her. Nina runs away around 1:04.40. As Nina moves frantically, the entire frame becomes off balance.
This film is not only technical in nature, but also has cultural implications that are worth considering. Although it isn’t shown, Nina may have an eating disorder, and a tendency of self-harm behavior before her mental illness became serious. Nina refuses even to eat a single piece of bread or fruit for breakfast, and only half a grapefruit, one egg and one egg are her daily intakes. Nina’s mother was alarmed to see the scratches on her back. This indicates that Nina is prone to intentionally scratch herself and inflict injury on herself. Ballet is a competitive sport, so it is crucial that dancers look slim and toned to be able to perform well on the stage. Anorexia has led to the deaths of several female ballet dancers. Nina may have been motivated to perfection by the beauty standard set by the industry. Although Nina is a talented dancer and young woman, few people can see beyond the glitter and perfection and understand what she has given up in return for her success.
The film can be described as scary or disturbing by many, but it is enjoyable for me because all elements are meaningfully used and visually appealing. It is evident that every costume, colour, camera movement, and editing has been carefully chosen to create meaning. Black Swan’s striking moments are made even more compelling by combining the most horrific with the most beautiful. Instead of being overwhelmed by fear they become so charmed by the beauty that they forget the frightening or psychotic reasons behind it.