In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Black Swan, we answer questions you have about the movie. If you’re curious about plot explanations, meanings, themes, lessons, motifs, symbols, or just confused by something, ask and we’ll do our best to answer.
- Nina Sayers/White Swan/Odette – Natalie Portman
- Lily/Black Swan/Odile – Mila Kunis
- Thomas Leroy/The Gentleman – Vincent Cassel
- Erica Sayers/The Queen – Barbara Hershey
- Beth MacIntyre/The Dying Swan – Winona Ryder
- David Moreau/Prince Siegfried – Benjamin Millepied
- Written by – Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin
- Directed by – Darren Aronofsky
Black Swan | Questions and Answers
Is Nina schizophrenic
It doesn’t really matter. The point of Black Swan isn’t to demonstrate a specific mental illness, the point is to explore perfectionism and the stress it puts on someone. Darren Aronofsky was interested in the destructive aspects of being a performer. His first effort was 2008’s The Wrestler. That film focused on someone at the end of a career that wrecked their mind, body, and life. Black Swan is a similar exploration but at the beginning of a career.
So Black Swan intimates that Nina has had some mental health issues in the past to ground the more surreal aspects of the story. Whether she’s actually schizophrenic or has some other issue isn’t as important as the fact her pursuit of perfection and high-level performance has inflamed her psyche to the point of self-destruction.
Did Nina kill Beth?
Beth is similar to The Wrestler’s Randy “The Ram”. Someone who was brilliant and beloved but has aged out of their prime and is struggling. Having lost the limelight and attention she’s harmed herself and ended up in the hospital. Nina has looked up to Beth, has dreamed of being the next “Beth MacIntyre”. Going so far as to steal Beth’s earrings and perfume just to feel a bit closer to her, to being perfect.
The point of the scene is to set up Nina’s rejection of Beth. Beth was Nina. Young, beautiful, an amazing dancer, and favored by Thomas and the public. Now, she’s in shambles. She’s not perfect. She is, as she declares, nothing. So here Nina’s biggest role model, the person Nina was striving to be, is suddenly the opposite of that ideal. Whether Nina stabbed Beth or not, this is the motivation. She wants to kill this person who represents her future. In that way, she’d be rejecting her future. She refuses to become nothing. She wants to be perfect. Which foreshadows her mortally wounding herself in order to give a singular, perfect performance.
All of the heady, thematic and symbolic stuff aside—what happened is totally unclear. There’s no random line of dialogue where you overhear a stage hand say “Did you hear someone attacked Beth?” It just never comes up. We do know that Nina is capable of dramatic hallucinations. Like after her “fight” with “Lily” there’s the whole thing where she hides the body then comes back later and sees a pool of blood on the ground. Only for it all to have been made up. So having the blood on her hand and the shoe knife could also very well be made up.
So as far as we’re aware, there’s zero definitive answer here. Just a symbolic one. Seeing what Beth’s become is what motivates Nina to go out in a blaze of glory. That’s the only way she believes she can stay perfect forever.
What’s the deal with Nina’s mom?
Black Swan is about performers and pressures they face. And it’s pretty common for high-level performers to have obsessive parents who push them. Usually, there’s a degree of the parent wanting to live vicariously through the child. Like the parent never achieved what they wanted so they try and force the kid to do the same. But this can come with a degree of resentment. In this case, Nina’s mom, Erica, is both rooting for and jealous of her daughter. Part of her controlling behavior is because she’s fearful of Nina’s mental health. But the other part is Erica doesn’t want Nina achieving anything on her own. Which has resulted in Nina’s stunted psychology and why Black Swan is a regressed coming of age story.
Did Nina and Lily really hook up?
Probably not. Nina is an unreliable narrator so her version of events isn’t really accurate. What we hear from Lily is that she went home with one of the guys from the club. So what happened with Nina, then?
Nina has been infantilized by her mother. Part of that has been a complete walling off of her sexuality. She’s been stunted. Which is something Thomas points out. That Nina doesn’t have access to this sensual part of herself that’s necessary for the Black Swan role. It’s something Lily does have. Lily’s carefree and expressive in all the ways Nina isn’t.
So her night with Lily is just a visualization of her unlocking that part of herself. Lily’s involved because Lily’s her model for this behavior. It’s essentially a dramatization of Nina asking herself, “What would Lily do?” The reality of that night is probably just self-gratification. But for someone as repressed as Nina, that’s a breakthrough. Having broken through that mental barrier, she can commit to being the Black Swan in a way she previously could not.
Is there a connection to Perfect Blue?
Yes. I mean, Darren Aronofsky says there isn’t. But he’s lying.
Perfect Blue is a Japanese anime film from 1997 that’s about a young woman who makes the transition from being a pop idol to an actor and the psychological turmoil that follows. There’s a stalker. And split personalities. And a whole psychological breakdown that may or may not be part of a murder mystery TV show. It’s pretty awesome.
Aronofsky actually referenced a Perfect Blue scene shot for shot in his 2000 movie Requiem for a Dream. At some point, a rumor began that in order to legally recreate the shot Aronfsky had purchased the U.S. rights to Perfect Blue. And after Black Swan came out, that rumor really gained steam because Black Swan is kind of arguably a Perfect Blue remake. Except it’s not true. There’s no proof Aronofsky has the rights. And Blue’s creator, the late Satoshi Kon, talked about Aronofsky a good amount and never once said anything about rights, only that Aronofsky had called it an homage.
Those scenes where Nina’s on the train and sees her reflection change in the window? That’s from Perfect Blue. Do you know what the name of Perfect Blue’s main character is? Mima. MIMA. I mean…come on. Nina. Mima. Both deal with hallucinations and blurring the line between reality and performance. Mima’s playing a character with a split personality and begins to struggle to differentiate what’s the show and what’s real. While Nina’s playing both the White and Black swans and begins to struggle with the personalities of each role. Beth even seems a bit similar to Mima’s manager, a former idol named Rumi who’s struggling with being past her prime.
It would be one thing if Aronofsky hadn’t publicly declared his love for Perfect Blue many times. Then you could probably chalk Nina and Mima up to coincidence. But he did. So we can’t.
With all that said, Black Swan is an amazing film with plenty of originality that Aronofsky directly brought to the table. It’s not like he didn’t add anything or make the story his own. It’s just that the inspiration is undeniable. Perfect Blue deserves the recognition.
What questions do you have?
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Did you like this movie better or worse when it was called Repulsion?
I need to watch that. Have never actually seen anyone make the comparison.