I should start this with a warning: this is not intended to be a review of Aronofsky’s masterpiece, Black Swan, but rather an analysis of the movie’s themes and the thematic elements introduced during the plots performance. By the movie’s end, regardless of how I felt about the art or cinematography, I felt there was more yet to be said about the screenplay, and I’ll say it here. If you felt empty after seeing Black Swan, this article will attempt to explain the hole in your chest, and perhaps imply how it could have been avoided.
After seeing Black Swan, I felt as if none of my questions had been answered, and I wondered dearly why this was. After much reflection, I eventually came to the conclusion that no one theme was ever satisfactorily answered during the movie, and that that, above all else, was what kept nagging at me about Black Swan.
To give an example, consider one of the more memorable scenes in the film–when Lily (Mila Kunis) performs oral sex on Nina (Natalie Portman). Besides the shock value of the scene, it raises a lot of questions about Nina’s motivation, and about her sexuality. At first, I assumed Lily had kept Nina up to make her late to work, thus putting her position as lead dancer at risk. This would fit with the tension between the two and would supply a straight, not-too-sexual interpretation of their motivations. But at the end of the movie, after it is revealed concretely that Nina suffers from hallucinations, the scene becomes infinitely more confusing, and very hard to fit in with the explanations given. I now interpret the scene as an indication that Natalie Portman’s character is at least partially homosexual, but if homosexuality is meant to be a major theme of Black Swan, why is it never addressed elsewhere? It could be argued that the tension between Nina and Lily at the start of the movie is more sexual than role-oriented, but when Nina’s perspective on the fantasy is never revealed, it makes the theme of conflicted sexuality a bit hard to swallow, especially as a central theme in Black Swan. Even if one assumes it is, then one has to believe Nina is at least bisexual, as she is obviously infatuated with Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). Her bisexuality isn’t hard to accept, but again, with no obvious emotional response revealed to the audience, one has to assume Nina has no misgivings about her desires. It’s either that, or her character is simply underdeveloped.
To assume the former is a safe bet, but not with the question of insanity dangling expectantly overhead. By the credits, I felt I could confidently sum up Black Swan by saying it was a film about mental disorders. Who is insane and what makes them insane? Seemingly, most of the plot was devoted to Nina’s neurotic dedication to dance, the meniacle seduction of Nina by Thomas and Lily, and Nina’s mothers obsessive fixation with her own daughter. All in all, it seemed pretty safe to say mental stability was the main point of the film.
But as anyone who’s seen Black Swan can attest, the denouement does little to nothing to help tie up this lingering question of insanity. By revealing that Natalie Portman’s character is delusional and at least partially insane, it almost invalidates the whole premise of the plot. When the audience understands that she is crazy, all of the tension and hallucinations from the previous scenes enter a realm of nothingness: a land of non-importance, because none of it was real beyond Nina’s psychotic imagination. Once the audience knows, nothing is at stake anymore. Because Nina is mad, it doesn’t particularly matter if her mother is as well, either. Nina is the root of the complications in the film, and now her mother’s involvement is purely one of upbringing. Did her mother’s harsh home ruin Nina’s mentality? Is Nina’s mum insane too, making it a case of hereditary instability? To be honest, I didn’t care enough to find out, and because the plot never fully addresses the issue, I didn’t even feel it was necesarry to understand.
This indifference is a plague within other plot points as well. It’s implied that Nina stabs the older, retired dancer in the hospital, but it’s never fully revealed if she did or not. Once I understood that Natalie Portman’s character was crackers, I didn’t feel it was even necessary to know for sure. The plot was over; Nina is mentally unstable, question answered. In effect, it’s like answering a Jeopardy question and then returning to analyze the grammar of the question: I just don’t feel inclined to do it.
There are perhaps other points that show an obvious lack of growth in Black Swan (the contrast between Nina’s anal lifestyle and Lily’s free-spirited living, the effects of pressure in dance on dancers, or even the obvious doppleganger metaphor) but at the end of the day there simply isn’t enough meat on Black Swan’s bones to warrant interest in the details. By not giving the audience enough information or reason to be curious, Darren Aronofsky has crippled what could have been a brilliant script knee-deep in its own themes and mystique. Instead, the plot was a single question wonder that ended with a brilliant, hollow fizzle instead of a glorious bang.