Conflicting Narratives: Beauty and Horror in Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’

I recently went to see “Black Swan” and thought it was fantastic. While I can understand that for some the film might be too gory and horrific, in my opinion it is the combination of horror with beauty that makes the film so powerful. Black Swan, to my mind, hosts two contrasting narratives (or stories) that become increasingly entwined as the film progresses. Indeed, the film tells not only the troubling story of the psychological demise of the ballet dancer Nina Sayers, but also the story of Tchaikovsky’s much loved and beautiful Swan Lake. As the film progresses the two, distinct narratives begin merge, Tchaikovsky’s ballet taking on the dark psychological story of the lead character Nina Sayers, whilst Nina’s story becomes tied to and underpinned by the story and music of Tchaikovsky’s ballet.

What I particularly like about Black Swan is that the film not only transforms Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, but almost makes the emotional territory explored in the ballet palpable. By transforming the magical fairy tale into a twenty-first century psychological drama, the ballet is provided with a more realistic (perhaps even more emotionally intense) narrative. Indeed, there are no swans here, only real people engaged in situations with which we can identify and understand.

The horrific elements to the film, in my opinion, are important, as they force us to witness, to visually experience, the tormented state of Nina Sayers. Without these I don’t think we could fully appreciate and understand the actions and emotions of the main character. The ending is particularly interesting in this respect, as it fills the spectator with a whole of host of conflicting and contrasting emotions. Indeed, at the very moment we witness Nina fulfil her dreams of executing the perfect portrayal of both black and white swan in the production of Swan Lake, we also see Nina at her most vulnerable and psychologically unstable state. As she performs the final scene to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the scene in which Odette commits suicide because she has lost her love and her chance at breaking the curse, her death is also confirmed, the wound she previously inflicted on herself in a moment of delusion proving to be fatal.

The final scene of the film, then, brings the two narratives together, Nina’s psychological demise and death occurring at same moment in the ballet where Odette commits suicide. What makes the scene particularly powerful in my mind is that in this climatic scene Tchaikovsky’s music replaces words as beauty and horror are placed side by side. As the horrific circumstances of Nina’s death become apparent, we are simultaneously swept away by the power and beauty of Tchaikovsky’s music. While we are appalled by the end, we enjoy the music, almost waiting the music to go on and the moment to last forever.

In my mind, Black Swan is more than just a film; it is a reinterpretation of Tchaikovsky’s ballet. In fact, since seeing the film I have had an itching to go and see the ballet, whilst the powerful narrative of the film still remains fresh in my mind. I wonder if the film has had a similar effect on other people, and whether it will spark an interest in ballet for those not familiar with genre. For me, it has certainly reinvigorated my interest in the genre.


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