Black Swan, Take Two

Some movies should be seen twice. With Black Swan, which I saw for the second time last night, not seeing just the plot, the shocking moments, or even having the “Hey, Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman are having sex” moment enriches the viewing experience. The second time around it is more captivating, frightening, and even more poignant.

Briefly, here is what struck me as more profound after the second viewing.

Nina’s development from a childlike and naive character to a self-aware woman with a freedom of expression is wondrous. The color scheme – white, pink, gray, black – used in her bedroom, her attire and how it transforms is a symbolic development in her character. This monochromatic color scheme is also why the use of red – Beth’s lipstick, blood, and the overwhelming saturation of red in the club scene – stands out.

The costuming in Black Swan is conceptually wonderful and drenched in symbolism. How feathers and other dance costumes are carried out into the real world. When Nina wears pink, when she wears black. It all matters.

Much of Natalie Portman’s performance revolves around the physical performance – her expressions and dancing – and not her dialogue. In the film’s first moments, Nina has little spoken dialogue. She says a few meek sentences to her mother, the other dancers. She’s soft-spoken, trapped, and controlled. When Nina meets with Thomas in his office, this is the first instance in the film when she has significant dialogue and the ability to assert herself. Her conversation with Thomas is strained. She doesn’t know how to fight for what she wants and she only gets it when forced.

Barbara Hershey’s Erica clearly struggles with manic depression and other mental illnesses. I didn’t know how to process this character after the first viewing as anything other than mentally ill. Yet there is genius behind Hershey’s performance. This is a woman who never had the career that Nina has and she has molded her daughter into the dancer she dreamed of being.  There is also something to be said about Erica in comparison to Ellen Burstyn’s Sara Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream.

Throughout the film, Lily and Nina discuss Thomas’ expression “My Little Princess” that he uses to show affection for Beth. Is it sweet? Is it creepy? Nina has no problem with it. Because her mother already has a pet name for her, “my sweet girl”. Of these two expressions, her mother’s is creepy, even frightening.

The best shot of the entire film occurs after Nina and Lily return to the apartment after their night out. Standing side by side, their images are joined and split by a mirror. In a movie all about doubling, reflections, and split personalities, this shot encompasses the entire film’s artistic conception perfectly.

After Nina performs as the Black Swan in the finale, she stands off stage. Her breathing, a motif throughout the film, is harder and louder than ever. In a way, she is essentially having an orgasm and it is not like the orgasm she experienced during her romp with Lily. It’s more real and passionate because it comes after Nina gets what she wants most: a perfect performance.

Through its heavy symbolism and cinematography, I found Black Swan to overwhelmingly driving at one idea. (It’s more noticeable the second time.) Everyone is controlled by two sides: the innocent and the dark. Only some people are recognize that. The realization leads to sexual satisfaction, even personal happiness.

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4 thoughts on “Black Swan, Take Two”

  1. I think you might have just convinced me to give this film another watch. I loved it tremendously (it’ll be high on my year-end list for certain)…but I haven’t seen it since the end of TIFF back in mid-September.

    By that point (following 21 films in 11 days) I was a little bit bleary, and might have missed a moment or two of nuance.

    Ordinarily I wait for dvd to watch a movie the second time around. However, after reading about all these little touches, I believe I’ll have to dive headlong into the theatrical experience one more time.

    Great post!

  2. Thanks so much! TIFF sounds likes my Cannes experience. There are still many movies I saw there that I need to rewatch because I was completely exhausted when I saw them.

    I noticed many of these thoughts during the first time I saw it. But the second time allowed me to process and digest them better. It helped that the movie was still fresh in my mind.

    Thanks again! :)

  3. I can’t wait to see this, is not out where I’m from yet so … This annoys me, having to wait and not getting to have the fresh, blank canvas experience because you always see some reviews somewhere. But at least it’s a really great review. I like your blog a lot! :-)

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