Black Swan: The Identity Crisis of Nina Sayers
Nothing grows and changes throughout life like a person’s identity as people face new challenges and experiences every day. The protagonist of Black Swan film by director Darren Aronofsky, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is faced with a fatal identity dilemma that changes her life. To say the least, Nina Sayers is a confused character. What starts out as a search for herself turns into an identity crisis that she cannot handle since she cannot distinguish real life from delusions. The search for identity is a rather delicate matter that if not carefully navigated could result in a catastrophic conclusion.
Nina is a passionate ballet performer, who has dedicated her life to the dance. She is struggling to act the double role of the White and Black swan in the ballet performance Swan Lake. She can perfectly perform the White Swan but has a hardship with the Black Swan role. Despite this, her ballet instructor Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) thinks she’s the best dancer for the role. Nina is an innocent young girl who plays accurately with her White Swan role. Her mother treats her like a child as is visible with the color symbolism of her clothing and bedroom with white and pink color signifying her childlike innocence.
Thomas is constantly reminding her that to pull off the Black Swan she has to be seductive and spontaneous. She instead dances the role with restrictions and control which does not work because she’s using White Swan’s motivations which are similar to her personality. Thomas instructs her to lose herself in the Black Swan character, but she is unable to do it. This causes her to be furious and angry as she grows increasingly violent towards everyone around her, especially with her mother. Nina begins to question her identity as she is trying to free herself from her mother’s influence. As she does this, it further drives her character to become Black Swan.
An element that clearly shows Nina’s struggles with her identity is the motif of violence. As Nina seeks maturity, her close encounters with her mother and other characters grow exceedingly violent. To Nina, the presence of her mother is preventing her from becoming the Perfect Black Swan. Nina gets more conflicted with herself as she turns her anger toward a newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis), her main rival for the role as Black/White Swan. Lily performs a perfect Black Swan, and she immediately becomes her greatest rival. Their rivalry takes on a dark, seductive and twisted form which will seek to devour them. Nina wants to be Black Swan but the only way is for her to let go of her restrictions. In one scene, Nina is intoxicated and has a sex dream about Lily. Initially, the audience is led to believe that they actually had sex but it’s later revealed that Nina went home with a different person. Nina struggles with this. She confronts Lily who is exhilarated after finding out Nina had a sex dream about her. This further fuels contempt for Lily as Nina feels as if she’s sabotaging her so that she might get the main role. He confronts Thomas about this who tells her, “The only thing standing in your way is yourself” (Aronofsky, 2010).
Nina is obsessed about being the main star and this obsession becomes desperation when she feels like Lily is taking her spotlight. In the film, the depiction of Nina’s hallucinations as she transforms into Lily further fuel the concerns about her identity crisis as it becomes impossible for her to tell what is real and what isn’t. The same can be said of the audience. The delusions of Nina seep into the films main plots and the audience is left in disarray as to what is actually happening and what isn’t. The film also shows Nina’s struggles as she tries to grow and soar on her own. They eventually become significantly overwhelming for her, further dooming her identity to utter failure. Nina is going through different psychological issues. She is conflicted about who she is and what role she is supposed to play. She wants to be Black Swan, clearly knowing she does not possess the character in herself. She’s finally able to become Black Swan but it comes at a cost of destroying herself. Nina’s identity was intact when she was just White Swan but the Black Swan caused her to be unsure of her identity which made her have an identity clash. Initially, she had a single identity but the search of Black Swan corrupted her personality which she now has no control over. In finding her new self, she lost herself.
This rivalry becomes her undoing as she attacks Lily and stabs her before the performance. After she finishes her performance perfectly, it is revealed that she stabbed herself f which further shows how serious her delusions have gotten. A lot of things in this film could be argued to be symbolism like the rivalry could be Nina fighting with her inner self. The film engages in a whirl of instability that comes with the wrestling of the protagonist’s identities to clarify her reality. Black Swan suggests an idea that the perception of chasing reality and identity is both a futile and fatal endeavor.
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