Black Swan is a 2010 American film directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis. Variously described as a psychological thriller or a psychological horror film, its plot revolves around a production of Swan Lake by a prestigious New York City ballet company.
The production requires a ballerina to play both the innocent White Swan and the sensual Black Swan. One dancer, Nina (Portman), is a perfect fit for the White Swan, while Lily (Kunis) has a personality that matches the Black Swan. When the two compete for the parts, Nina finds a dark side to herself.
Aronofsky conceived the premise by connecting his viewings of an actual production of Swan Lake with an unrealized screenplay about understudies and the notion of being haunted by a double, similar to the folklore surrounding doppelgängers. The director also considered Black Swan a companion piece to his 2008 film The Wrestler, with both films involving demanding performances for different kinds of art. He and Portman first discussed the project in 2000, and after a brief attachment to Universal Pictures, Black Swan was produced in New York City in 2009 by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Portman and Kunis trained in ballet for several months prior to filming and notable figures from the ballet world helped with film production to shape the ballet presentation. The film premiered as the opening film for the 67th Venice International Film Festival on September 1, 2010. It had a limited release in the United States starting December 3, 2010 and a nationwide release on December 17.
December 3, 2010
Fox Searchlight Pictures
The ballet director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), is reluctant to cast Nina; he claims that she is the perfect White Swan, with perfect technique, but that she lacks the passion of the darkly sensual Black Swan. During a confrontation over the role, Thomas kisses her, and she bites his lip, surprising and exhilarating him; directly after, he casts her in the lead. He presents his new star in front of a crowd, including the now unstable Beth. After a heated exchange with Beth, Thomas and Nina leave the party. The next day, the dancers hear the news of an accident in which Beth was hit by a car. Thomas confesses to Nina that he believes she threw herself in front of traffic because of her self-destructive and unpredictable behavior.
Nina displays a number of psychotic symptoms, including strong delusions and elaborate visual hallucinations. She begins to feel paranoid that Lily, her understudy, is determined to take the lead away from her. Thomas, meanwhile, becomes increasingly critical of Nina’s “frigid” dancing as the Black Swan, and tells her that she should stop being so perfect and simply lose herself in the Black Swan role. On another occasion, when Thomas, Nina and David (Nina’s partner) are practicing, Thomas becomes aggravated and dismisses David. When Nina makes her move to leave, he tells her that he is not quite finished. The two dance together while Thomas continually urges Nina to let go. To evoke a response, he kisses her; this time, much more passionately, telling her to open her mouth while he caresses her body. Nina succumbs to lust, when, abruptly, he breaks away and leaves the studio telling her, “That was me seducing you.”, and that it needed to be the other way around.
One night, Lily appears at Nina’s door and pressures Nina to go out on the town for a bit. Nina is first reluctant, but after her mother’s pushiness to get rid of Lily, she quickly leaves to escape her controlling mother. At dinner, Lily offers her Ecstasy, which Nina declines, but later Lily slips it into her drink when she goes to the restroom. After their night out, they return to Nina’s apartment where they have sex. Nina wakes up alone and late the next morning, and rushes to rehearsal. When she enters the studio, she finds Lily dancing as the Swan Queen in her absence. Furious, Nina confronts Lily, and asks why she didn’t wake her up in the morning. Lily states she spent the night with a man whom she met at the club, and teases Nina for fantasizing about her. Nina realizes that she and Lily never did have sex; it was all one of Nina’s hallucinations.
The night before opening, Nina is rehearsing late and continues to experience strong visual hallucinations. When she returns home, she sees her mother’s paintings speaking and mocking her. She also notices that the rash on her shoulder has worsened, with little black barbs poking through her skin. Nina pulls one of the barbs from her skin, and it appears to be a black feather. Nina’s eyes appear to turn into reddish swan eyes and her legs violently contort into the shape of a swan’s. As she tries to steady herself, she falls and knocks herself out on her bedpost.
Nina awakes the night of the opening performance locked in her bedroom with her mother. Nina’s mother tells her that she called the company and informed them that Nina wasn’t feeling well and won’t be able to perform. After violently forcing her mother to let her leave, Nina arrives at the theater and immediately prepares herself as the White Swan.
The first act is an abomination; the Prince drops Nina while dancing onstage. Distraught, Nina returns to her dressing room and finds Lily there, dressed in the Black Swan costume. Nina shoves Lily into a full-length mirror, and during the ensuing scuffle, takes a shard of the mirror and stabs Lily, killing her. After hiding Lily’s body, Nina returns to the stage and dances the Black Swan passionately and sensually, growing black feathers all over her body as she dances, her arms becoming black wings as she finally loses herself and transforms into a black swan; at the end of the act, she receives a standing ovation. A shot from the audience’s perspective reveals that Nina is in fact unchanged, and that the feathers and wings are another of Nina’s hallucinations, however her shadows on the backdrop show the outline of the wings she had imagined. When she leaves the stage, she finds Thomas and kisses him once again.
Back in her dressing room, she is interrupted by a knock at her door: it’s Lily, who has come to congratulate her. Nina realizes the fight was another hallucination, but the mirror was shattered — she notices a wound on her body and realizes that she apparently stabbed herself as the White Swan, not Lily. Back on stage, Nina dances passionately and seamlessly in the final act as the White Swan. In the final moments of the ballet, when the Swan “dies” by jumping off a cliff on the stage (landing on a hidden mattress), the audience erupts in thunderous applause while the cast discovers Nina lying on the mattress. After Thomas enthusiastically congratulates her on her performance, he and the cast see she is covered in blood. Though Nina lies wounded and dying, she feels happy that everything she went through helped her to perfect her performance. The film draws to a close with Nina reveling in the audience’s applause as she whispers “I was perfect”.