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Absence of Cause: Paranoia and Schizophrenia in Black Swan, Movie Review Example

Pages: 3

Words: 710

Movie Review

In the 2010 film, Black Swan, an interesting scenario is presented in that extreme psychological disorders are simultaneously critical to the story and largely ignored as such.   The film is centered on the character of Nina, a young dancer with a prestigious ballet company in New York and the daughter of a retired ballet dancer.  From the beginning, the movie emphasizes Nina’s isolation and obsession with her art, both of which are clearly reinforced by her mother.  The mother, it is understood, seems to want Nina to achieve the stardom she herself was denied.  In short order, Nina is somewhat inexplicably chosen to play the lead in Swan Lake; the company’s director is blatantly unhappy with her inability to portray the darker side of the swan, yet she gets the part.   From here, the film increasingly presents intense frustration in Nina, along with increasing episodes of what can only be described as delusions.  She fights violently with her mother, engages in a relationship with a rival ballerina that is partially erotic fantasy, and she believes herself to be growing actual black wings on her shoulder blades.  The director continually demands that she get in touch with her own primal, dark self; she believes she has murdered her rival during the intermission on opening night, which she has not; and she dies at the ballet’s end, seemingly at peace in having achieved perfection as the black swan.

The Freudian Death Drive aspect at the conclusion, inserted out of nowhere, is by no means the main problem with this film’s examination of mental disorder.  That resides more in how the movie utterly ignores any explanation for Nina’s condition to begin with.  This is blatantly unacceptable, given how important Nina’s disturbed state is to the film.  For example, there is no evidence of anything wrong, beyond a somewhat overly ambitious mother.  Nina is a member of a prestigious company and, while she clearly has a strong motive for wanting the star role, nothing is offered to explain the paranoiac delusion when, very early in the movie, she sees another version of herself in the subway.  It seems likely that a young woman in this situation would seek some sort of help, yet the episode is brushed aside by Nina.  Simply, no character for her is shaped or defined, so her responses to her own delusions are mystifying.  Then, as noted, she perceives actual wounds on her back, which terrify her, even as the audience is repeatedly given to understand that these are not real.  The object appears to be to reveal Nina as terrified of becoming the “dark” swan, but this is completely unsatisfying.  More exactly, most performers play different roles without undergoing severe trauma, yet Nina seems to believe that this is an inevitable process.  It is irrational, then, to have the lead of the film as a functioning young woman, one who must be a disciplined dancer and professional,  and then present her as simultaneously unable to recognize that she is suffering from psychological distress of no ordinary level.

Equally importantly, Black Swan chooses to combine schizophrenia with paranoia only to render more dramatic effects.  Nina, as evidenced by her persistent fixation on the wounds on her back, is quickly divorced from reality.  She sees “herself” again, moving down a hallway; she unaccountably steals items from a former ballerina’s room, as though to capture that woman’s essence; and she exhibits violent paranoiac delusions in regard to her rival.  Given the little that is established about Nina, it is perfectly explicable that a shy, bullied dancer would face conflict regarding her own abilities, her mother’s hold on her, and the threat of a competitor for the role she wants.  All of this, however, is a far cry from disorders so extreme, they translate into murder fantasies believed to have been real, sexual fantasies occurring only in her mind that she also is certain occurred, physically violent attacks on her mother, and degrees of self-mutilation.  The audience is also asked to accept that no one, even in the periphery of this girl’s life, would be aware of this extraordinary behavior.  Ultimately, and somewhat amazingly, Black Swan actually attempts to present severe paranoia and schizophrenia as relatively likely outcomes from a stressful career as a dancer.

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