The history of literature abounds in bildungsroman, literally meaning the development of a character. The history of cinema, on the other hand, abounds in golden reels of development of characters. Development does not always mean that in ages but in personality, maturity, and most importantly, one of the trails that governs human life. Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a movie that records the psycho-sexual development of the protagonist Nina. Nina Sayers (played by Natalie Portman) develops from an innocent child to a matured adult while rehearsing and performing at a ballet concert. The film is a psychological thriller which results from the insecurities of Nina when one of her friends attempts to replace her.
Throughout the movie we see Nina’s thirst to be perfect. The very beginning of the movie brings before our eyes each and every action of Nina that is nothing but perfect. While a casting procedure for Swan Lake takes place, Nina secures the role of Swan Queen but is soon convinced by the director, Thomas (played by Vincent Cassel) that she is suitable for the White Swan, who symbolizes innocent and childlike attributes but not the Black Swan who is the fiery symbol of maturity. The movie can be correlated with one of the famous British poets, William Blake who wrote two poems of contrasting subject matter; ‘The Lamb’ and ‘The Tyger’. While the fluffy lamb symbolizes innocence, the tiger symbolizes maturity and the poet beautifully brings out how the two contrasting trait dwell, together in a person. Similarly, Nina’s full development into a ‘Black Swan’ takes a heavy toll on her.
There are a number of important scenes that mark the milestone of Nina’s development. Nina takes in her long and slow process of maturation is to leave behind control. As the director asks Nina to let loose her control as the essence of perfection achieved in letting go all the scenes have a different taste altogether, Nina embarks on a journey of maturity. When the director kisses her, it is the impulsive side of her that compels her to bite him. The second milestone in Nina’s maturation occurs when the director asks her to masturbate which she tries to do. The setup of the entire room reinforces the contrasting selves of Nina. When she attempts to masturbate, she suddenly becomes conscious about the presence of her mother and stops abruptly. Her mother symbolizes the force that stops Nina from maturity.
There are a number of images in the cinema that reinforce the subtle idea of transformation. When Lily (played by Mila Kunis) interacts with Nina and takes her to a club and indulge in various activities such as drinking and in taking medicines , there are a number of images that flash in the screen that depict the inner tsunami that is going on in Nina’s mind. For example, in the shots where she is in the club, sudden shots featuring the Black Swan, images of her face multiplied can be seen. To add to that, the features of Black Swan develop beneath her back this symbolizes the painful development towards maturity.
Nina’s hallucinations of the Black Swan become the most intense when she hallucinates Lily with the tattoo of black wings on her back and a seductive face, trying to seduce her. She locks the door and creates a separate domain from her mother when all these happen, when hints at the ongoing process of maturation within her. The series of hallucinations continue and she catches the director making love with Lily to which she freaks out. Nina goes to Beth (played by Winona Ryder) who epitomizes perfection to her as she has been the lead actress of Thomas, when she meets Beth, in the horrific way, she sees Beth stabbing her own face. To add to this, she hallucinates the feathers of the Black Swan coming out from her skin when she reaches home. This indicates the gradual progress of maturation towards the much awaited climax.
The final scenes depict the much, awaited-ballet concert. Nina fails while performing the role of White Swan; the one which she enacted effortlessly on previous occasions. This on a deeper level brings into focus her inability to fit in the halo of innocence. The tension reaches its peak when Nina gets back to the dressing room to dress up as the Black Swan and finds Lily and takes on the violent role of stabbing her to death, which is Nina herself. A few shots reveal Nina stabbing her identical self to death. The movie reaches its climax when the ballet-concert ends with the Black Swan stabbing herself and dying. Nina, after completing the concert, gets greeted by every dancer and the director and soon after Lily notices the wound in her lower abdomen which symbolizes menstruation, the ultimate maturity that she has gained and her stepping into adulthood. In the end,she says that the concert ‘was perfect’ which hints at the sexual maturation of her.
The film undoubtedly brings out the psychological insecurities of Nina and the painful maturation that she undergoes. All the scenes move towards the climax which shows how Nina leaves behind her innocence to get into a domain of maturity. Various scenes show how painful the process of development is, like the growth of black feathers beneath her back, the wound she gets on her fingers indicates her sexuality blooming from a dormant state. The background music, on the other hand, soothes the ears beautifully.