Thursday, 20 October 2011

Shapeshifters Film Review 7: Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010)

Fig. 1. Black Swan Poster

Swan Lake can be called an artistic film, it uses a large array of visual techniques, sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle, to help create an atmosphere of a psychological thriller. This atmosphere helps set the plot that follows the life struggle of a young dancer Nina (Natalie Portman) as she works her way to become a top ballerina while living at home with her mother. Straight away as the film starts she is having a dream about dancing in Swan Lake as the leading dancer, one of the most prestigious positions within dancing and her ultimate goal.

“The screenplay, by Mark Heyman, Andrés Heinz and John McLaughlin, invites pop-psychological interpretations about women who self-mutilate while striving for their perfect selves, a description that seems to fit Nina.” (Dargis, 2010)

The film is filled with tense scenes and psychological trips that keep you on your toes. Amongst the techniques helping create the effect of a thriller is the colour palette which consists of mainly grey tones. The theme of Swan Lake is the innocent sister is white and pure while the evil sister is black; the film picks up on this and uses it throughout the film keeping everything a monotone colour, even Nina wearing at least one piece of white as a sign of innocence. However the film breaks the colour scheme at some points but on purpose, like Nina’s room which is a horrible pink colour representing the ugliness of her relationship with her mother. Another key colour choice is the lipstick she steals from the dressing room; that intense red colour compared to the rest of the grey tone film can be symbolic for her sexual curiosity of which she’s never had experience in.

Another key technique building up for the psychological feel is the shoulder cam. It traps us within the characters point of view, not allowing us to look around and suffocating us. This is really effective in trapping the viewer with the characters psyche and can be seen many times through the film where the back of the characters head is only visible with a portion a view.

“-particularly in cinematographer Matthew Libatique's brilliant continuous shot in which Nina makes out with a random guy in a club, then wakes up to what she's doing and, freaked out, blunders through murky winding corridors and out into the night air – there seems no difference between inside and outside. Everywhere is claustrophobic.” (Bradshaw, 2011)

One more main technique and is the most crucial is the mirror. It’s a key point in expressing Nina’s every growing “evil” persona like the evil sister in Swan Lake. Nina’s battle with her doppelganger is subtle at first but it escalates towards the end of the movie to the point where her reflections are moving on their own. The final moment of the mirrors is when she stabs Lily (her doppelganger) with a shard a mirror in the stomach, this is symbolising the moment she embraces the evil within because in reality she stabs herself.
Fig. 2. Mirrors

“The director’s use of mirrors and reflections in numerous scenes are a constant reminder of Nina’s altered perception of reality. Mirrors in the movie are often misleading and Nina’s reflections seem to have a “life of their own”. As Nina becomes haunted by the Black Swan, this alternate persona takes a life of its own and acts outside of Nina’s conscious control.” (Vigilant Citizen, 2011)

The true meaning behind the film is chasing perfection no matter what the cost, even if it means embracing evil or becoming a monster.
Fig. 3. Black Swan

Dargis, M. (2010) The New York Times At: (Accessed on: 20.10.11)

Bradshaw, P. (2011) The Guardian At: (Accessed on: 20.10.11)

Illustration List
Fig. 1. Aronofsky, Darren (2010) Black Swan Poster At: (Accessed on: 20.10.11)

Fig. 2. Mirrors (2010) From: Black Swan Directed by: Darren Aronofsky [film still] USA: Fox Searchlight Pictures At: (Accessed on: 20.10.11)
Fig. 3. Black Swan (2010) From: Black Swan Directed by: Darren Aronofsky [film still] USA: Fox Searchlight Pictures At: (Accessed on: 20.10.11)

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