Movie Reviews
Thursday , July 27 2017
Black Swan (2010): A Portrait of the Artist as Narcissist

Black Swan (2010): A Portrait of the Artist as Narcissist

Spoiler Scale (How spoilery is this article on a scale of 1 to 10?):  9
(NOTE: The essay also includes discussions of the films, The Red Shoes (1948), All About Eve (1950), and The Tenant (1976).)

Black Swan opens within a dream.  Nina (Natalie Portman) is dancing a sequence from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake (1876) where the evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart, casts his spell upon the fair Princess Odette, turning her into the White Swan.  Shortly thereafter, in the “real” world, Nina warms up in the New York City Ballet rehearsal studio, and the ballet director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) both sets up the plot of Swan Lake and throws down the gauntlet for Nina:

“We all know the story.   Virginal girl, pure and sweet, trapped in the body of a swan.  She desires freedom, but only true love can break the spell.  Her wish is nearly granted in the form of a prince.  But before he can declare his love, the lustful twin, the Black Swan, tricks and seduces him.  Devastated, the White Swan leaps off a cliff, killing herself, and in death finds freedom. … We open our season with Swan Lake – done to death, I know – but not like this.  We strip it down, make it visceral and real.  The new production needs a new Swan Queen – a fresh face to present to the world.  But which of you can embody both swans – the White and the Black?” 

Nina, who is reaching her prime in a ballerina’s abbreviated career, has been promised a greater (read: starring) role in the upcoming season, and the lead role in Swan Lake is in her sights.  While Thomas is convinced of Nina’s controlled and precise take on the White Swan, he has his doubts that she can convey the necessary qualities of the Black Swan.  Nina eventually secures the lead role, pleading with Thomas, “I just want to be perfect.”  But the journey to opening night has some bumps.

Nina’s mother (Barbara Hershey), with whom she shares an apartment, alternatively supports and suffocates.  And then there is the drama within the dance company itself.  Thomas seems intent on sexualizing the frigid Nina to loosen her up for taking on the Black Swan, which is misinterpreted by the rest of the world as Nina giving him sexual favors.  Even though she eventually secures the role, Nina feels threatened by Lily (Mila Kunis) – the new arrival from San Francisco who Thomas believes embodies all of the aspects that would be necessary for the Black Swan.  Meanwhile, the ballet’s star/Thomas’ ex-lover – Beth (Winona Ryder) – has been put out to pasture and attempts to kill herself.

All of this seems to push Nina down the road of psychosis.  Rash-like wounds on her upper back appear, which could be the result of obsessive compulsive scratching or something worse.  And then there are the sightings of her doppelgänger, which seem to increase in frequency and intensity as she works to find the duality of her role as Swan Queen.  These episodes culminate with the opening night performance of Swan Lake, where the art merges with Nina’s reality, as she literally transforms into the Black Swan and ultimately loses her own life in a battle between the opposing forces of her fractured psyche.

The Pathology of Nina

On its surface, Black Swan seems to be a cautionary tale – i.e., “the quest for perfection can unhinge the unwary” (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times (December 3, 2010)) or “perfection in one area of life [leads] to sacrifices in many of the others” (Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com, (December 1, 2010)).  But such a reading leaves so many details unaccounted for.

Similarly, others have reduced Nina’s descent into madness along a version of the following formula:  mother issues/repressed sexuality + stress/pressure of the ballet = psychosis.  (See, e.g., Susan Donaldson James, Black Swan: Psychiatrists Diagnose Ballerina’s Descent, ABC News (December 20, 2010).)  But to conclude that “[b]allet made her psychotic” (Joan Acocella, Black Swan in Red Shoes, The New Yorker (December 23, 2010) also misses a critical question.  That is, on a planet of billions, there are a lot of pretty little girls who have the athletic propensity to be premiere ballerinas.  But what type of girl/woman does it take to endure the physical demands of the ballet and the slings and arrows of the competition and the management?  We would all like to believe that there is some pure love of the art that motivates such performers, but Aronofsky is shining a brighter light on what he describes as an extremely “insular” world.

On one distinct level, Black Swan is a portrait of Nina as a narcissist.  We are not talking about the sort of self love that leads to healthy level of self-preservation and self-esteem – which Freud referred to as “primary” narcissism – but a more extreme manifestation referred to as “secondary” or pathological narcissism.   In his essay “On Narcissism” (1914), Freud discussed the links between this level of narcissism and both auto-eroticism and psychosis, both of which are dramatically presented in Black Swan.  (Sam Vanknin, Ph.D, Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited (2007), pp. 289-298.)  In any case, the fact that one suffers from a headache (pathological narcissism) does not prevent one later developing a toothache (schizophrenia).  And there is more to Nina and Black Swan than a descent into schizophrenia.

“Pathological narcissism is a life-long pattern and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of all others and the egoistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification dominance and ambition.”  (Vanknin, p. 35.)  Clinically speaking, Nina seems to exhibit at least five of the nine proposed amended criteria for diagnosing an individual with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  (Vanknin, pp. 36-37).

First of all, Nina is obsessed with fantasies of perfection.  Consider the image that opens the film.

BlackSwan1

And consider the last lines of the film that Nina utters to Thomas as she lays dying.  “I felt it.  Perfection.  I was perfect.”  Striving for a perfect performance is one thing; but having delusions of perfection is quite another.  The objective fact that seems to escape Nina’s delusional mind is that she actually fell down during her “perfect” final performance.  And the obsessive nature of this preoccupation with perfection is evident from Nina’s repeated use of the word throughout the film, such as when she pleads with Thomas to give her the Swan Queen role (“I just want to be perfect“) or when she attempts to explain to Beth why she stole her personal items from her dressing room (“I wanted to be perfect like you!“).

Nina is also convinced that she is unique and can only be understood by the few other people she views to be highly-talented.  In spite of the unwanted sexual advances, she defends her relationship with the seemingly lecherous Thomas to Lily, her mother, and others.  For example, Beth asks Nina, “What did you do to make him change his mind [about casting you] – did you suck his cock?” To which Nina responds, “Not all of us have to.”  Unlike all of the other dancers Thomas has bedded, Nina is so talented that she will not have to have stoop to sleeping with him to earn the part.

Nina also requires an excessive amount of attention, adoration, and affirmation – even when the acquisition of this “Narcissistic Supply” carries with it a discernible level of distaste (Thomas) or a regression in psychological development (“Mommy”).  And when Nina exits the stage after first appearance as the Black Swan – with an enthralled audience chanting her name (in what may be part auditory hallucination given the decorum expected at the ballet) – the orgasmic look on her face in this consciously extended shot reveals much more about Nina’s psychology than a psychotic break.

BlackSwan24

Nina also seems to be unable or unwilling to identify, acknowledge, or accept the feelings, needs, or preferences of others.  When she laughs with her mother, there is a distinct artifice to her voice and gesture.  And when Nina attempts to have a conversation with two men in the bar, the topic shortly turns to her one obsession and Nina embarrasses Lily by offering to comp them into a performance.  Clearly, most people are not interested in the ballet; but Nina has never had an interest in understanding what most people care about.

Finally, not only does Nina covet Lily’s natural ability to reflect the qualities of the Black Swan, but Nina’s envy grows to the point of paranoid and persecutory delusions – particularly when she confronts Thomas upon learning that he has cast Lily as Nina’s alternate.

Nina:  It can’t be her!  It can’t be her!

Thomas:  What’s going on?

Nina:  Lily. You made her my alternate!

Thomas:  Well, there’s always an alternate – Lily’s the best choice.

Nina:  No, but she wants my role.

Thomas:  Every dancer in the world wants your role.

Nina:   No, this is different!  She is after me!  She is trying to replace me!

Thomas:  Nobody’s after you.

Nina:  No, please believe me!

Thomas:  Hey, I know it’s been a struggle.  But you just had a breakthrough this morning.  Tomorrow’s yours.  Just give a great performance and you won’t have to worry about Lily or anybody else.

Pathological narcissism is considered a defense mechanism intended to deflect hurt and trauma from the victim’s “True Self” into a “False Self” – an identity and narrative construed by the narcissist to be invulnerable, omniscient, and omnipotent which stifles and paralyzes the True Self into virtual irrelevance.  (Vanknin, p. 169.)  In this sense, Nina has undergone a split before she ever appears on screen for reasons to which we are not privy and Aronofsky is not particularly interested in exploring.  That said, like Nina (and contrary to the more stereotypical portrayals within popular film), narcissists can be socially withdrawn and exhibit a false modesty and humility to mask their underlying grandiosity.  (Vanknin, p. 39.)  And most tellingly, “the narcissist is incapable of enjoying anything because [s]he is in constant pursuit of perfection and completedness.”  (Vanknin, p. 64.)  Indeed, we never see Nina taking any joy in her dancing – only in the adoration of the audience.  Rather, the “schizoid” narcissist rarely expresses feelings and tend to only trust first-degree family members – and even then, their bonds are not really close.  (Vanknin, p. 289.)

This brings us to Nina’s mother.  We are not privy to the hurt or trauma that would have resulted in Nina’s pathological narcissism.  But narcissism tends to breed narcissism, and most pathological narcissists have at least one narcissistic parent.  (Vanknin, p. 493.)

“The narcissistic parent regards his or her child as a multi-faceted source of Narcissistic Supply.  The child is considered to be and treated as an extension of the narcissistic parent.  It is though the child of the narcissist seeks to settle ‘open scores’ with the world.  This child is supposed to realize the unfulfilled dreams, wishes, and fantasies of the narcissistic parent.”  (Vanknin, p. 493.)

BlackSwan2

The narcissistic parent’s exercise of control over her child helps sustain the illusion that the child is part of the narcissistic parent, and that control can be guilt-driven (e.g., the reminder that her mother quit dancing at age 28 to have Nina) and goal-driven (e.g., providing “advice” on how to handle the audition process for the Swan Queen).  (Vanknin, p. 493.)  In this regard, Nina’s mother maintains Nina in a state of arrested development within a 12 year-old girl’s bedroom, refuses to acknowledge or inform Nina of callers, and drags Nina to the bathroom to trim her nails when it appears she may be hurting herself (rather than dragging her to a professional).

Reflection and Duality

Amateur clinical assessments aside, Aronofsky has included a number of visual clues to Nina’s psychology beyond her more obvious psychosis.  Mirrors and reflective surfaces are omnipresent throughout Black Swan.  Conveniently enough, ballerinas practice in front of mirrors to constantly check their own “lines.”  But from the beginning of the film, this motif first arises outside of the rehearsal studio.  In one of the first scenes in the film set on a subway car, Nina is not checking her lines – she’s checking herself out.

BlackSwan3
And it is no coincidence that immediately after she turns her attention away from her own reflection to the other commuters, she thinks she sees herself.

BlackSwan4

(This shot in the subway car window is repeated later in the film, as Nina applies the lipstick she steals from Beth’s dressing room.)

This much-discussed doppelgänger of Black Swan is a manifestation of a more general aspect of narcissism – self-objectification.  (In its most obvious manifestation in the generic Hollywood comedy, the narcissist refers to him or herself in the third person.)  And nowhere is this self-objectification more evident than in one of the first sequences that Aronofsky imagined for the film and discussed with Portman almost a decade before production began – the liaison between Nina and Lily in Nina’s bedroom.  On first viewing, as the scene commences, the viewer suspects that all of Nina’s frigidity toward Thomas may be based on her homosexuality.  But the reality is that Nina is not making love to another woman.

BlackSwan15

Rather, Nina is making love to herself.

BlackSwan14

In the midst of all of these Polanski-esque visuals, the viewer is privy to the true reality that Nina should also realize – that is, although Lily is absent from her bed the next morning, the barricade from inside her bedroom door is still intact.  Yet Nina is unable to process or accept that reality, as she later confronts Lily about abandoning her.  (Lily’s response: “Oh my god, you fantasized about me!  Was I good?”)

To be sure, Lily is the natural object of Nina’s psychosis.   In a key scene shortly after Nina secures the role of the Swan Queen, Thomas sees Nina spying on Lily dancing in the main studio and comments, “I watch the way she moves – imprecise, but effortless.  She’s not faking it.”

BlackSwan11-1

While Nina’s hair is tied tightly in a bun, Lily’s hair flows freely.  Nina usually wears white, and Lily black (that is, until Nina literally borrows Lily’s spare clothing for an uncharacteristic night on the town).  Indeed, Lily even has black wings tattooed on her back.

Nina’s psychosis accelerates further in the third act, as the opening performance of Swan Lake draws near.  At first, Nina sees parallels between Beth’s career and her own.  (How long does Nina  have left in the ballet?)  And Nina’s interest in Beth is further fueled by Thomas, who refers to Beth’s performances in the past as “dangerous – even perfect at times – but also so damned destructive.”   Beth’s self-destruction shows Nina that “[t]he narcissist ages without mercy and without grace.”  (Vanknin, p. 204.)  As one projection of Nina’s goal of embodying perfection, Beth ultimately becomes a sort of ghost of future past.

BlackSwan18

BlackSwan19

Nina next projects herself onto her mother.

BlackSwan22

BlackSwan21

And finally, in the midst of the opening and final performance as the White Swan, Nina goes from seeing her face on one of the supporting dancers (Lily) to seeing her face on all of the dancers.

BlackSwan22-3

BlackSwan22-2

And then comes the break.  As a particular type of narcissist – socially inept in her obsession with technical precision – Nina’s False Self fits neatly with the performances of the corps demanded of her in the past and the expectations for the White Swan.  But in Thomas’ interpretation of Swan Lake, portraying the Black Swan requires a certain “letting go” and a “seduction,” which are ill-suited to the False Self Nina has so carefully crafted and honed.  Nina needs a new False Self to pull off the perfection she seeks.  If the vertical split of her psyche between her True Self and her False Self (pathological narcissism) occurred before we first met Nina, the horizontal split between the White Swan and the Black Swan (schizophrenia) ultimately proves to be her undoing.  In a way, that horizontal split dramatizes – or gives an added dimension to – the vertical split.

BlackSwan25-1

But the focus upon Nina’s dualities should not be overstated.  Despite the prevalent use of documentary-like 16mm handhelds, Aronofsky is clearly going for a melodramatic fable – not a personal character study.  We are told very little about Nina’shistory.  We learn very few details about a history of psychological adversity in Nina.  The scope of Aronofsky’s thematic suggestion seems to be much broader.

In this regard, beyond the vanity inherent in reflection, Aronofsky provides yet another separate (but related) motif to emphasize the duality of the True Self and the False Self that characterizes the narcissist.

BlackSwan17

But that duality also extends beyond Nina to the other artists and performers.

BlackSwan5

BlackSwan6

BlackSwan5-1

What Aronofsky has to say about the fractured narcissistic psyche seems to apply in a more general sense.  What does it really take (psychologically speaking) to be an elite artist/performer?  What kind of person would sign up for that?  And would we all really want to be inside that headspace?

Postscript:  Influences and Conspicuous Non-Influences

How much should we trust what directors have to say about their own films and their influences?  Director Darren Aronofsky first considered the genesis of Black Swan while editing his second film, Requiem for a Dream (2000), and discussed the role with Portman almost a decade before its production.  In interviews, Aronofsky has consistently cited three influences upon the film that ultimately became Black Swan.

The most significant influence appears to be the Fyordor Dostoyevsky’s novella, “The Double” (1846).*  Dostoyevsky’s “hero” – a guy who never seems able to say the right thing – longs to rise from low-level to mid-level bureaucrat by marrying up the ladder.  But his efforts are thwarted by the appearance of an exact copy of himself, who threatens to appropriate the hero’s life.  Beyond the socio-political commentary and undertones specific to 19th century St. Petersburg, Dostoyevsky conveys a fairly maddening (and maddening to read) account of a man succumbing to schizophrenia.  And there are certainly similarities to Nina’s psychotic break.

From the world of film, Aronofsky has also cited All About Eve (1950) and The Tenant (1976).  The latter film – the last installment of what is rather loosely referred to as Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” – tracks the lengthy devolution of the sanity of a Polish immigrant in Paris (played by Polanski himself) as his paranoid hallucinations gradually get the better of him.  To be sure, there are a few visuals (e.g., the shifting of faces) and an overall sense of creepy and quiet menace that is present in both films. But visually speaking, the work of David Cronenberg seems to be just as significant an influence upon Black Swan (if not more so).

BlackSwan23-2

BlackSwan23-3

All About Eve documents the meteoric rise of Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) from the sycophantic assistant to aging theatre diva Margo Channing (Bette Davis) to understudy to the next big thing.  Perhaps there was more to the relationship between the dancers in the original screenplay of Black Swan by Mark Heyman (“The Understudy”), but as portrayed in the film, Nina is certainly no Margo and Lily no Eve.  What we get in Black Swan is an environment so hypercompetitive and catty that no member of the corps de ballet could possibly be surprised by a stab in the back.  Still, the enigmatic last shot of All About Eve suggests another thematic common denominator between the two films.

AllAboutEve1

And then there is the 600-lb. gorilla in the room.  No discussion of Black Swan would be complete without mentioning the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film, The Red Shoes (1948).  On the surface, the common narrative elements are uncanny.  Both films use the ballerina as a functionary (in The Red Shoes, Moira Shearer as Vicky) to explore the tragic trajectory of artistic ambition, and each ballerina’s director (in The Red Shoes, Marius Goring as Julian) pushes her along that trajectory.  In this regard, both films play as a fable within a fable – in the former, the red shoes in the adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s story inevitably lead to the bottomless pit of that ambition; in Black Swan, the duality of the White Swan and the Black Swan in Swan Lake parallels the fractured psyche of Nina in the pursuit of that ambition.

RedShoes1

BlackSwan28

But as striking as these similarities may seem, these films are also separated by six decades of social and cultural evolution.  In The Red Shoes, Julian is distinctly desexualized, and the force countering the pursuit of Vicky’s art is romantic love and a future with marriage and a family.  By contrast, Thomas unapologetically links sex to Nina’s performance (on and off the stage), and Nina is bound by the demands of her own False Self and confined to a self-imposed state of arrested development.  If The Red Shoes questions the effect of the relentless pursuit of artistic ambition on an otherwise talented emotionally healthy person, Black Swan challenges its underlying assumption in the context of a much larger world – can a talented emotionally healthy person being even achieve that level of success?

Grade: A+

* Incidentally, writer/director Richard Ayoade (Submarine (2010)) has formally adapted Dostoyevsky’s “The Double” into a comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska, which is currently scheduled for release in 2013.

About Steven

Expressing an appreciation (or lack thereof) for all sorts of films for over 25 years.

20 comments

  1. Steven, this is an intelligent and well-written post. I saw Black Swan for the first time, and you’ve really hit on what makes it such a fascinating movie. It’s a lot more than a parlor trick with standard movie questions of “what’s real?” Instead, Aronofsky is really delving into the narcissism of a dancer who can’t see anything beyond herself. Great work.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Dan. Yes, after the bedroom sequence, it becomes pretty clear that we cannot trust the visuals from Nina’s perspective as reality anymore. But your comment reminded me of a shot that I forgeot and have subsequently added above that really really visually illustrates my point – which also happens to be one of (if not the only) where Nina’s delusion arguably blends with reality – that is,on stage, her True Self, as we see her, is subordinated by the large shadows of two swans, her split False Selves.

      • I do not believe Nina shows characteristics of narcissism, no more than healthy narcissism. I think any narcissistic traits in her are a reflection of her mothers narcissism which has been channelled into her daughters success. the mother sees her daughter as an extension of herself and a way of gaining narcissistic supply, when the daughter reaches adulthood the mother becomes jealous of her daughters success and tries to hinder it, very common behaviour of narcissistic parents. They for fill their dreams through their children, but then get jealous when the child becomes mature enough to lead an independent separate life. Nina has never been able to develop as an independent person as she is merely a reflection of her mothers dreams. this is extremely unhealthy for a child, and nina is suffering both stress form the treatment she receives from her mother which results in a psychotic breakdown. This does not indicate narcissism. her mother shows traits of narcissism and borderline personality disorder, Id say nina is more under the anxiety disorder and stress end of the spectrum as she subsequently end up suffering psychosis.
        this is a good article:
        https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-favorite-child/201102/the-black-swan-lesson-in-parentchild-relationships

  2. Like most of Aronofsky’s movies, it’s a crazy trip that you never want to end, but when it does, you can’t believe what you’ve just been through. Portman is great and really deserved that Oscar win but I also felt like Kunis should’ve gotten an Oscar nomination since she really lets loose and has us worried what she’s up to the whole time. Nice review Steven.

  3. Very well written post about my all time favorite movie. I love your analasys. I always felt that the movie also is an expression of Aranofsky about making movies and that the final line describes his feelings about the film. It’s interesting that a movie can be interpreted so differently by different people. I recently saw the documentary Room 237 about theories about The Shining and it showed that as well.

    • Thanks, Nostra. I am glad I happened to stumble upon your all time favorite movie. I know there were some people who had more devisive opinions about it.

  4. Although I admit I only read half the article, most of me couldn’t get through the rest. It bothered me too much to see Nina being called the Narcissist. I am a victim of a Narcissistic mother, and although I appreciate your deep research on Narcissism, it is a bit backwards. Look a little further, and see that Sam Vaknin is a Narcissist and Psychopath himself. I watched this movie last night and related deeply to Nina. What Nina sees is her separation from reality to cope with trauma. Nina is not the Narcissist, but the victim of a Narcissist (Hershey). Example; Erica says to Nina she will take her dress off. Nina insists she can do it herself, but Erica, determined to make Nina completely dependent on her, ignores Nina’s request to take her own dress off and does it for her anyway. Or when Nina says Erica put too make cake on her plate. In Erica’s extreme all or nothing thinking, she takes it as a personal attack, throwing the cake away, making Nina feel guilty for expressing her needs and wants in which she apologizes. Nina is always apologizing, which is a symptom of Narc victim syndrome. A true Narcissist, NEVER apologizes. A Narcissistic apology is “I’m sorry YOU feel that way.” Although, Nina may have Narcissistic traits, such as her need for perfection, these are what is called Narcissistic Fleas.

    • I am not inclined to offer a reply because you have not read half the article, but since you called my analysis “backwards,” I feel obliged to point out that I am not convinced by the ad hominem that follows. Would being a “Narcissist” or “Psychopath” disqualify one from writing a generally well-regarded work on narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)? Or would being a narcissist actually give one a unique insight? In any event, if you read Vaknin’s book, you would find it to be thoroughly researched. With respect to the portions relevant to the analysis of this film, I did not find Vankin’s book cited above to be fundamentally inconsistent with other writings on NPD.

  5. Would being a rapist disqualify one from making conclusions as to why one rapes? No. In fact, it would probably be pretty accurate. But is it recommended the victims run to their comfort when they write a book about it? No. I wouldn’t catch Nicole Brown reading “If I Did It” either. It’s a 45 minute, British, I believe, documentary called I, Psychopath. Try Dr. Karyl McBride’s research instead. I’m not trying to criticize you, but inform that we are out here too! There’s a lot of research on Narcissism, but hardly any on the victims. It’s worth taking a second look at, seeing how Nina is constantly apologizing. That’s not a Narcissistic trait, but the trait of a victim. The trait of someone who has been shamed and guilted. A Narcissist, feels no shame. She falls prey to a man determined to sexualize her. A true Narcissist, would never be swayed so easily, but would manipulate the situation. It is a trait of a victim’s. I know, I’ve been victimized many times in this way. Where you see Nina’s Narcissism with her perfection, is called Narcissistic Fleas. By all means, research that yourself. My mother is a Malignant NPD, and this movie hit home for me. I saw myself in Nina, and I am not a Narcissist, but lived through the subtle jabs, denigration and complete control Erica put on Nina. Its not something the outside world will ever understand unless you’ve lived through it.

  6. And I want to make something clear. I’m not saying Vaknin is wrong, or your research is bad or wrong. Its very consistent with everything I have heard a million times. Which is why I didn’t need to read the rest of the article, by the way. I’ll spend the rest of my life researching NPD. I’m just saying, there is more to it that meets the eye. Narcissists are cruel and conniving predators. They have victims, you know.

  7. I loved the last part. Could someone truly emotionally healthy even achieve the perfectionism these industries demand? Answer, my guess is no because more then half of them cause physical and mental problems for a variety of people. Nearly anyone who is in a field of extreme competition doesn’t have emotional health. It’s dog eat dog for them in real sense. We say that in life, but I don’t think anyone has any real idea what it means until your best friend is getting the biggest role of a life time and 12 years of your life have now gone down the drain because you didn’t get the big part and can’t continue because you hurt your leg/foot. I think the perfectionism asked for in the entertainment industry is insane.

    I also would like to say that I think all of Nina’s problems and her narcissistic traits came from her mother. Her mother is totally psychotic in the entire movie and since Nina doesn’t get any real love from anyone it would make sense that she feels she has to love herself to the degree she tries to project.

    I would also like to point in your conversation with DONMfreedom out that no, a real narcissist could never talk about being one. They can not recognize themselves as such or think of it as a glamorous handicap which means they’re just special all over again. They either deny it outright or use it wrong.The very thing that makes them a narcissist prevents them from seeing it as a fault they could fix. So if the writer of the book is in fact a narcissist his research maybe well done

    There is no beauty or melodramatic tragedy to being a narcissist or really any of the mental disorders that deal with lack of or mess ups of empathy in the brain, such as BPD, ASPD etc. It is a horrible and depressing disorder of the mind often caused by well, shitty parenting, as in Nina’s case in film too. And usually the parent is shitty because their parents were shitty with their own mental issues. It was a big patter on both sides of my family. I’m currently unsure if my own mother is a narcissist or possibly on the autistic spectrum (they can unfortunately have similar traits, difference from what I understand is the autistic person doesn’t get it, but the narcissist doesn’t care.) The one sure fire way to tell if someone is narcissistic is if they can admit fault and apologize for it. The literal words “I was wrong, and I’m sorry” Find someone who can’t do that and they at least have narcissistic traits. Those words specifically. Because narcissists can do a backwards version of “I’m a fool” “I’m stupid” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” but they never say they’re actually wrong and get extremely offended at the insinuation.

  8. This was a very good analysis of this film. I love this film and Darren Aronofsky is a very good filmmaker.

  9. Esteban De la Serna

    Hey, Steve! I have just read your analysis of this film and I couldn’t believe I found someone with the same oint of view. Although, I want to comment you about something else I found out from this excellent piece of film-making, and that is the way Nina tries to get rid of her false self by creating a unique “true self”, by creating her own Black Swan, ’cause I don’t think she did really followed Thomas literally, I mean, she created her Black Swan for herself. For example, when she is at the important nght where Thomas presents her to the world as the new prima ballerina, she stares at a kind of fallen angel sculpture with beautiful wings.

    I think she is clearly trying to please her art director by being the black swan, as she once pleased her mother by being the white swan. I think this is because she lacks of a father figure, and that’s what she sees in Thomas… but the hallucinations of herself in other people makes her look deeper than that, to stop pleasing others, just to please herself now. That’s when she starts to make her own black swan, portraying it in Lily (the wings at her back, which are, at first, a pair of lilies). If you remember the scene where she confronts Lily before the Black Swan performance, Lily is sitting there with this tattoo on her back, and then she suddenly becomes Nina, and as Nina “kills” her, she can develop now those wings she created in her mind, destroying her false self “white swan” her mother created and, at the same time, not letting flow the other falase self that Thomas wanted to create. I’m sure of this ’cause, at the end of the movie, when the white swan is dying over the mattress, Lily appears with no wings on her back!!

    I also think there is a sexualization in the meaning of it, cause Lily always brings some earrings with a falic form, while her mother always has ones with a kind of vagina form. Maybe it sounds gross or bizarre, but the ending of her stabbing herself relates to me as a metaphor of descover her real sexuality with herself, and not giving it to anyone else (as a narcissist fantasy) For example, when she is with Tom and Jerry at the club, the guy tries to flirt with her, but Lily always appears in the right moment, but the Lily she created, not the real one. That’s a very personal thought of the movie, like if she was trying to get some male stuff in her act, I think that’s why Rothbart does not appears while she is the Black Swan, cause now he is inside of her (like a masculinity-independence metaphor).

    Just to finsh my large comment haha, I think she did not die at the end. She destroyed her false self (the white swan), which was the one who would please her director, as it pleased her mother, and I think that’s her level of perfection.

    • Nice catch on Lily’s wings disappearing (i.e., no longer being projected by Nina) in the final scene … I appreciate reading your thoughts!

  10. I re-watched parts of this move yesterday as it happened to be on t.v. a couple of times. Great movie, and this is the best review I’ve read, although while reading I considered the narcissistic traits to be those traits Nina picked up from her narcissistic mother, and not proof that Nina herself is a narcissist. Like the earlier poster, I also saw Nina as the victim of her narcissistic parent. If Nina went to therapy, I think she could understand the unhealthy dynamic she’s in, whereas therapy would have no effect whatsoever on the mother, if anyone could convince her to go.

Express yourself

Scroll To Top