Welcome back to another scene analysis. Today, we are going to be looking at the final scene of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010).
The plot of Black Swan focuses around Nina (Natalie Portman) who is a professional ballerina with a controlling mother. Nina gets cast for prima ballerina in Swan Lake by her director, Thomas. For this role, she needs to place the innocent White Swan while also being able to play the sensual and darker Black Swan. Even though Nina is perfect for the White Swan, she fails to capture the Black Swan – thus unfolds a psychological tale where she tries to get in touch with her darker side.
The scene we are looking at is just after she has finally managed to portray the Black Swan perfectly. This only came after she believes that she let her darker side take over when she killed Lily by stabbing her with a broken piece of mirror. The whole film explores the themes of identity and the pursuit of perfection even if that means changing your identity which gives the action of Nina stabbing Lily with a mirror even more depth. By giving into her dark side, she can let go of her innocence and portray the Black Swan.
However, she then comes to realise when her performance finishes that she didn’t stab Lily at all – she stabbed herself. This is the moment that we’re going to start analysing from. After pulling the mirror shard from her stomach, Nina sits down in front of a mirror and begins to reapply her White Swan makeup while she’s crying. The running motif of mirrors and identity recurs once more. The choice to show this moment from afar and slightly above Nina gives viewers a voyeuristic feeling of intrusion.
However, the show must go on so Nina continues to apply the makeup to maintain the illusion of perfection. It doesn’t matter that she is losing her mind, it doesn’t matter that she’s losing her identity completely – all that matters now is the performance and the swan. The close up on this moment shows this perfectly as we begin to see that she doesn’t even care that she could be dying. She just covers up and prepares herself to go out there and be perfect.
The scene then shifts to the final dance of Swan Lake where the White Swan throws herself from the edge of a cliff in order to escape Rothbart. There’s so many comparisons that you can make of Black Swan’s plot to the original Swan Lake plot but this specific scene mirrors exactly what Nina is feeling. A sense of desperation to be free from the clutches of an obsessive leader that can only come through death.
In Nina’s case, that’s her mother.
The camera follows Nina’s dance in a first person tracking shot so that we can feel as if we are on the stage with her.
When the swan finally decides that it’s time for her to run to the cliff, she turns around again to face the audience. The camera cuts to a close up of Nina’s dress where blood is beginning to seep through the white fabric. In the background over the top of the orchestral music is the squelchy sound of flesh to further add to the disturbing imagery.
For Nina to break into the character of the Black Swan, she had to first lose her innocence. Even though in the plot, Nina has just stabbed herself with a mirror shard so obviously she is going to be bleeding; I can offer another interpretation which I’m certain was the intention.
Throughout the entirety of the film, Nina is treated like a child by everyone around her. Even her room doesn’t look like the sort of room that an adult would sleep in, her mother is obsessive and mollycoddles her while Thomas doesn’t believe that she could perform the Black Swan as she is too innocent.
When a girl enters into womanhood by starting her period and menstrual cycle, she has technically lost the innocence of childhood – just like how Nina did when she thought that she had taken a life. I believe the blood seeping through her dress is a symbol for her ‘period’ and that she is officially becoming a woman.
Nina spares a glance to Rothbart, to the Prince before she finally looks into the audience to see her mother looking back at her, emotional. Nina has finally reached the level of perfection that her mother always wanted her to and never thought that she would. All of her hard work and torment has paid off. But the look that Nina gives her in return isn’t one of gratefulness but desperation. Like the swan, she wants to be free. The lighting also mirros this as Nina is covered in ‘sunlight’ while her mother is shrouded in darkness.
Nina prepares herself.
Bleeding, broken but beautiful. Perfect. She looks as if she is jumping towards her freedom from everything, calm in the knowledge that she left with one performance of a lifetime. She impressed Thomas, she impressed Lily and she impressed her mother. The simple shot of just the mattress and Nina with the black surrounding her is a stark difference from the previous busy shots where the screen was completely filmed with other dancers or the audience. Nothing matters aside from how Nina feels.
The others come to congratulate her, including Thomas who says that he knew that she could do it. She is still in a daze of a dream and it takes a while for them to even realise that she is bleeding. When they do, chaos ensues as they begin to call for help and Thomas asks what she did to herself. But Nina doesn’t respond.
She just says that she felt it.
“It was perfect.”
It’s worth noting that she doesn’t say I was perfect but refers to just the performance – or she could even be referring to herself as an ‘it’ to fully showcase her loss of identity.
We hope you liked this analysis – what did you think of Black Swan? Let us know in the comments and also let us know which films you would like us to analyse next!