January 5, 2011

The Black Swan Movie Review Criminal Attorneys And Hollywood Don't Want You To Read


already seen it

I was once involved with a woman and we decided to stay in and watch a movie, she was a professional cheerleader who was interested in dancing, travel and working out, and the movie I chose was Pi.

45 minutes into one of the best movies I had ever seen she says, "I have absolutely no idea what's going on in this movie.  All I see is a paranoid fucker living in a world of madness."


As I was leaving the White Trash Monday (matinee) showing of Black Swan, exactly what I predicted to myself would happen happened: a woman turns to her boyfriend and mentions how beautiful the Swan Lake ballet's music was, and how she'd like to get it from itunes.

Is it beautiful?  I'm no expert on beauty, pornography is more my thing, but I'll go with yes.   But I do know that that woman is in for a surprise, what she heard in the movie wasn't the music of Swan Lake but the same 4 measures of Swan Lake Act 2 looped over and over and over and over again, like it's being played by a wind up music box, which half of the time it was.

swan lake act 2 tchaikovsky.png
Those of you musically inclined will observe that I erased the F clef and edited out the first measure (four beat rest) to generate the above graphic, which is analogous to what the movie does: exerts considerable effort to spoon/force feed you the necessary elements, when letting them happen naturally, which would have been easier and more rewarding.

That's just the music.  Now imagine what it does with the psychosis.


Are there any new stories in the world?  A high school girlfriend told me the universe was made of them.  I'm ok with remakes, but you have to take the story somewhere different, right?

Here's the story: Nina is a dancer and wants, then gets, the top spot in Swan Lake.  The previous prima ballerina got old.  Nina is an innocent, childlike waif.  The director knows she'll be great as the white swan, but can she tap into the dark side to play the black swan?  In so doing, she goes crazy, has anorexia, eats a cake, has bulimia, skin picks, kills herself, maybe kills someone else, has sex with Mila Kunis, punches her mom, takes ecstasy, never once mentions the existence of a father, and turns into a bird.  I'll leave you to sort out the order.

In parallel: Natalie Portman (the actress) loses a ton of weight, many times thought she would die, thinks what will get men to want to see an Aranofsky film is a lesbian scene, and marries her costar.  No, the other guy.

Sort of parallel: Mila Kunis (the actress) denies getting drunk before the sex scene, and ends a 9 year relationship with the kid from Home Alone.  (So that's what happened to him.)

We get to see her crazy ex-ballerina mom infantilize and control her, and her French director try to seduce and mature her.  There's the psychological tug-of-war: the mother wants to keep her as a child, the director wants her to become a woman, Nina can't choose so she District 9s into a bird.

The problem with this interplay is twofold. 

First, the porn-- doing the most obvious to generate the desired emotion.  The mom isn't just Carrie crazy, she is exactly Carrie crazy.  The French director isn't just smarmy, he is exactly "French director" smarmy.  Example: he grabs her crotch and whispers, "respond to my touch.  Respond to it."

As advertised, there's a lesbian scene in the movie, it's supposed to depict the psychosexual component to Natalie's obsessiveness.  Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman get naked, and Mila lustily gives Natalie
oral, and I'm thinking to myself, what's the matter with me that this terribly unsexy?  Am I too old?  Too much porn?

The literary answer, the subtext answer, the one that is never touched, is that perhaps Nina's relationship with her mother is not just controlling but incestuous, a ha!, which explains why Nina would dare to have her first lesbian experience at home, in her princess bed, with her Carrie mom banging outside the door; Mila Kunis becomes a projection of mother who brings a guilt ridden Nina to orgasm.   The only way she can orgasm is with mom; and the only way she can orgasm is to pretend it's not mom.  And when Nina is masturbating on her princess bed, at the moment she should have an orgasm she (thinks she) sees her mom asleep in the chair.  Sex without mom is impossible; sex with mom has made all other sex impossible.

That's one answer.  The other answer is that I've already seen this scene, this exact scene, a dozen times.  No attempt is made to make it different, unique to this story, important to this story.  Hence, it is gratuitous; and I certainly have no problem with girl on girl gratuity but when it's done boringly even I will be bored.

Secondly, it's wrong.  When those two forces pull, they pull at angles with a resultant vector, they are not exact opposites-- you don't get torn apart.  If you go with the psychoanalysts, the schizophrenogenic mother causes psychosis through certain interactions, but explicitly NOT because there's another force in your life opposing the mother's. The alternate force, however bad it was, since it opposed mom would be reality grounding, and while you can still get  every kind of personality disorder and a lifetime of messed up relationships, having that opposing force prevents psychosis, not enhances it.

Natalie Portman adeptly plays lots of different pathologies: anorexia, psychosis, OCPD, etc-- but these things don't all manifest in the same person and certainly not because of events in your life-- this thing made me OCD and this thing made me hallucinate and this thing...

It is also the kind of crazy defendants fake when they want to pretend they're crazy. Not understanding real psychosis, nor the specifics of the legal term "insanity" often means defendants endorse or exhibit every symptom I throw at them.  They pull a Nina, thinking I'll be impressed.  (A very common one: cross modal hallucinations, e.g. seeing and hearing a demon talk to you, are rare in schizophrenia and if they actually happen are usually the result of drugs or other organic illness.)

Of course, anything is possible and blah blah, but since this depiction is not novel and not accurate, what is it, and why is it at least partially effective?  The answer is that it's a genre piece. The genre isn't ballet, the genre is paranoid fucker living in a world of madness.  Nina's craziness is the (male) audience's fantasy of crazy, it is a template for the kind of crazy a 20something wants to pretend he has to impress girls.  The crazy part is a signal to girls: I'm passionate, creative, driven. (FYI: It almost always signals a lack of commitment.)

The movie is very much what an outsider assumes happens in a world he doesn't inhabit.  Crazy overbearing ballet mom?  Seems plausible. But doesn't exist-- not at the professional level.  That's grade and high school stuff.  A person who needs to work hard at a profession would have abandoned such a mother (fathers are different) long ago because it interfered with her own progress.  Crazy soccer mom?  Check.  Crazy Olympic soccer moms? No.   Where you would see such an enmeshed mother-adult daughter relationship, with the mom living through the daughter, is when there is no technical skill necessary, e.g. living through their daughter's beauty, youth, relationships.  I don't expect pathological enmeshment between Natalie Portman and her mom; it wouldn't surprise me in Kim Kardashian.


None of this is to detract from Natalie Portman's Christian Baling the role or Aranofsky's tremendous directing and emotional impact (Ron Bennington: "Aranofsky's movies make you hate the human body.")  But the story doesn't do anything but repeat scenes from other movies which were better in their originals. This is why Natalie Portman could probably get an Oscar for Best Actress, but the movie isn't a contender for Best Picture. Nine years married to Rachel Weisz, he's going to be predisposed to melodrama.

Unfortunately, where I see Hollywood headed isn't more sequels or more remakes, but more copying, more cheating.  When a movie copies a scene from another movie, that used to represent an allusion; it now represents a cheat sheet to the audience: remember how you felt about the dance scene in Jacob's Ladder, the fear, sexuality, confusion?  Just apply all that here, it saves me the work of exposition.

Here's an example: the preview before Black Swan was for a super cool movie that I really want to see right up to the part that it turns out to be a Transformer.

But listen to the music.  At the big reveal, the music they play is the Lost crescendo; and at 1:45, the way they signal we're not in Kansas and things are not what they seem is to play the Inception theme.

And on and on.  The Adjustment Bureau is a Matt Damon movie about fate.  So when you want to quickly create a backstory, just put the Fringe guys in anachronistic 1940s clothing and Dark City yourself a spiral staircase

and we'll take it from there.  It is in all ways identical to the shortcuts and cheat sheets we employ for ourselves-- branding-- to generate a backstory without having to put in the work.  "See this hat? It means I like to think about the things I heard on NPR." 

I'll still go see these movies, of course, but I find myself wishing someone would do something original or at least in an original way. By all means, make it 3D.


You might also enjoy:

Surveillance Movie Review

Wanted Movie Review


just to nitpick a bit - the... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 1:30 PM | Posted by jb: | Reply

just to nitpick a bit - the reason they use Lost and Inception is the same reason that Lemony Snickets (and others) used Edward Scissorhands music: because they haven't written their music yet

My understanding is that in most cases, the music isn't written until the movie is nearly complete.

So while it doesn't contradict your point about theft, music-borrowing is not something new, nor particularly unreasonable given the lag time between trailer and release.

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Interesting perspective on ... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 1:53 PM | Posted by J Wright: | Reply

Interesting perspective on the movie. There were parts of Black Swan that felt a little too on the nose - obsessive mom, seedy director, fierce female competition ... but I actually did end up enjoying it. I felt that Inception was more of a script recycle this year. Midway through I thought "wow I liked this before when it was The Matrix."


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You dated a professional ch... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 2:10 PM | Posted by DCF: | Reply

You dated a professional cheerleader?

hmmm, suspect

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Best date movie I've seen? ... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 2:23 PM | Posted by Tree Frog: | Reply

Best date movie I've seen? Stardust.

Worst movie seen with date? The Proposition. Somehow, seeing an aboriginal's head explode on-screen didn't put us in the mood...

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So, there's order in madnes... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 3:03 PM | Posted by Esther: | Reply

So, there's order in madness?

I'd be interested to know what your take on the movie "Through a Glass Darkly" is. It's older and has what I thought was a decent portrayal of schizophrenia. It is not porn, fyi.

By the way, I really enjoy your thoughts and always look forward to new posts. I guess I've been a lurker for a few years now. I can't say I am in complete agreement with you on many things, however, I always find myself thinking more deeply after reading your articles.

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Looks like another film ina... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 3:20 PM | Posted by Walenty Lisek: | Reply

Looks like another film inadvertently about narcissism: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/independent/iam/

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When his husband let's him.... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 3:26 PM | Posted, in reply to DCF's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

When his husband let's him....

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Nice touch with the verbing... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 4:34 PM | Posted by Dave: | Reply

Nice touch with the verbing of nouns, TLP. Total originality is a high hurdle though. "Dark City yourself a spiral staircase," but of course Dark City (a great film) borrowed the look of its cityscape from Metropolis.

BTW, re Aranofsky and Pi, I'm reminded of what Financial Times film critic Nigel Andrews said about him when The Wrestler came out:

"The Wrestler , a Rocky -ish melodrama redeemed mainly or solely by Rourke's performance, is directed by, of all people, Darren Aronofsky. After Pi , Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain - a geek masterwork about maths, an existential drugs tragedy and a film about time and metaphysics - Aronofsky must have decided, "I'll make one for the airheads.""

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Another great review. Save... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 8:20 PM | Posted by retriever: | Reply

Another great review. Saved me from being dragged to the my film by my daughter. Who thought me a boring old bat for resisting going to see it "Honestly, Mom, you were a dancer yourself...you surely must known about gay or lesbian love scenes..." To which I rather crankily snarled (with college aged kids one sometimes talks frankly, sometimes still forgets and acts like Mom) First: "Lesbian sex on screen is almost always to titillate male viewers, at least when Hollywood is purveying it. Second, when I was a dancer, 99% of the women were straight. It was just the guys who mostly weren't. Third, Americans are obsessed with the stage Mom because it expresses something broader culturally than just the family situations of the unfortunate starlets and other entertainers people idolize. Although there ARE stage moms the world over, it's something peculiar to America to make so much in movies of the Evil Controlling Mom (Psycho anyone?) or that cow who facilitated her daughter falling into POlanski's arms. Look at the stuff on Helicopter Parents, and the tradition of mother blaming in psychology. Our culture both overvalues and lashes out against Mom. End of lecture..."

If someone wants to watch something sexy to do with ballet, just get some old videos or DVDS of Baryshnikov and his partners. Now that's eye candy for a straight female.

But I digress. I agree with your points about the kind of paint by numbers portrayal of crazy Hollywood prefers. Thinking it would be fun to make up a list of the worst (and most inaccurate) depictions of various psychiatric diagnoses by film title with a quick summary of what the movie suggests as versus more typical course/prognosis in "real life" (whatever the [email protected]#$ that is)...(I am perhaps biased because I have a kid with Asperger's who is NOT a cute genius of the type Hollywood might make a movie about but just a normal person with difficulties.

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Patton Ozwalt makes similar... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 8:33 PM | Posted by popo: | Reply

Patton Ozwalt makes similar points in wired and the avclub today. He's pimping his book, I believe.

Anxiety of Influence. Look it up.

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Don't bother, just click.</... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 8:34 PM | Posted by popo: | Reply

Don't bother, just click.


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Is this a cultural trend th... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 9:00 PM | Posted by Sean: | Reply

Is this a cultural trend that is also present in other forms of media? Maybe it is not simply films which are reiterating/rearranging plots or elements from other films, but also, for example, music- hip hop, for example, where to a large extent the instrumental production is based on rearranging or looping parts of older songs. Or pop music in general, even. Is our culture just failing to create with any amount of originality because it is too focused on... what?

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I had exa tly the same expe... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2011 10:54 PM | Posted by Elam bend: | Reply

I had exa tly the same experience with the Transformers trailer. I was so excited and then, "nooooooooooo!"

Btw, I almost took a buddies girlfriend to Requim for a Dream (he needed her out of the house to study). Her friend called her and she begged off, THANK GOD. I had no idea what I was walking into.

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All I can say is, when my n... (Below threshold)

January 6, 2011 1:43 AM | Posted by soaplove: | Reply

All I can say is, when my neice and I went to see this, and it was finally over. I just looked at her and said "What the hell was that?". This was a really bad movie, IMO, and why all the rave about it, I don't understand.

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All I can say is, when my n... (Below threshold)

January 6, 2011 1:46 AM | Posted by soaplove: | Reply

All I can say is, when my neice and I went to see this, and it was finally over. I just looked at her and said "What the hell was that?". This was a really bad movie, IMO, and why all the rave about it, I don't understand.

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I'm glad I'm not the only o... (Below threshold)

January 6, 2011 3:02 AM | Posted by esf: | Reply

I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt that way about the Transformers trailer. All I could think at the end was "a great idea for scifi, ruined by Michael Bay." Now there can't be a good scifi movie with the moon landing idea without being one of your copycats (although surely it wouldn't be an attempt to recreate the emotion/exposition of a transformers movie).

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Watched it with my girlfrie... (Below threshold)

January 6, 2011 3:29 AM | Posted by slw: | Reply

Watched it with my girlfriend. I loved the movie, girlfriend was emotionally broken for the rest of the evening. Would not recommend for date viewing. Thanks for the Stardust tip above though, will definitely do that :P
Lily = id, Nina = ego, Mom = superego.
Freud makes all movie analyzing trivial.

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Freud makes all movie an... (Below threshold)

January 6, 2011 9:14 AM | Posted, in reply to slw's comment, by fraise: | Reply

Freud makes all movie analyzing trivial.

Many would argue that's because Freud trivialized a great deal of human nature...

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Well, they say a definition... (Below threshold)

January 6, 2011 4:26 PM | Posted by Whatever: | Reply

Well, they say a definition of insanity is doing the same thing while expecting a different result each time.

You keep going to those Hollywood films you will get the same results.

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Good thing Many's paying at... (Below threshold)

January 6, 2011 4:30 PM | Posted, in reply to fraise's comment, by David: | Reply

Good thing Many's paying attention to more substantial matters elsewhere ...

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I just sat down and ... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2011 2:44 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I just sat down and ate what's supposed to be FOUR servings of split pea soul. I hope I don't shit myself, at least until until after 7 P.M. today (Friday). But you know, I was raised on legumes and to me it's "comfort food," perhaps paradoxically so.

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I liked the Matrix before, ... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2011 8:18 AM | Posted, in reply to J Wright's comment, by Jason: | Reply

I liked the Matrix before, when it was Dark City.

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Hmmm... I like your blog, b... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2011 12:11 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Hmmm... I like your blog, but every time I read it I cannot help but think of the scene in "The Silence of the Lambs" where Clarice visits Lecter in prison:

"You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don't you - why don't you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you're afraid to."

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I also wrote a review of th... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2011 4:49 PM | Posted by Paul Crosby: | Reply

I also wrote a review of the black swan at my blog Occam's Aftershave. Comparing it to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche - because we are primarily a philosophy blog I had to make it fit.


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Wrong link, Sorry!<a... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2011 5:02 PM | Posted by Paul Crosby: | Reply

Wrong link, Sorry!

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"I'll still go see these mo... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2011 10:23 PM | Posted by G. Abramowitz: | Reply

"I'll still go see these movies, of course. . . ." Why?

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Oh wow, it's The Termina...... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2011 3:13 PM | Posted by Iris: | Reply

Oh wow, it's The Termina... no, I mean the human Reaper from Mass Effect 2!

Well, I guess a huge-ass humanoid robot is always going to look like a huge-ass humanoid robot. And you didn't make me act surprised. So it's all good.

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I want to punch whoever edi... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2011 6:44 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I want to punch whoever edited together that Transformers trailer.

It looked like an awesome idea for a movie and then BAM! "A film by Michael Bay." Well, shit.

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You should watch "Dark City... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2011 7:56 PM | Posted, in reply to Jason's comment, by EH: | Reply

You should watch "Dark City," again. It's not that good and deserved to be remade.

As for the topic, Frank Zappa said, "make a jazz noise here."

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Natalie Portman = HAWT!... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2011 10:25 PM | Posted by GT: | Reply

Natalie Portman = HAWT!

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I think this was more a dep... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2011 10:23 AM | Posted by Anon: | Reply

I think this was more a depiction of Borderline Personality than true psychosis. The self mutilation, the transient psychosis, the interpersonal difficulties, the split between good and bad, bulimia, etc. Yes she was obsessively fixated on ballet, but I see her as an introverted borderline that freaked out under stress...no?

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I think the cause is... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2011 10:33 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I think the cause is insufficient oral sex. For both sexes someone mouthing their genitals is the most effecting and often most intense means of reaching orgasm, which everyone who's experienced is knows is the profoundest bliss. A life without bliss is hell.

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I find your ability to refe... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2011 11:21 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I find your ability to reference any portion of the vast space that is popular culture astounding. I appreciate every reference (that I understand)especially in this article the "fringe people" thing. I thought the exact same thing when I saw the trailer, but not many people watch the show so there is no one to discuss it with.

Where you find the time to know all this, I will nevr know

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With summer approaching, we... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2011 5:07 AM | Posted by Cheap NBA jerseys: | Reply

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Meh. I thought it was schlo... (Below threshold)

January 16, 2011 9:55 PM | Posted by zztop: | Reply

Meh. I thought it was schlocky and enjoyed it at that level. The Red Shoes ( which B. Swan shamelessly rips off) is way better, at least its tone is modulated so it builds up to something. If you liked the Red Shoes and Showgirls and want to see them in the same movie, preferably directed by Dario Argento's cousin, then this movie is for you.

Also, Tchaikovsky's score is brilliant, way more brilliant than this movie. Stay home and listen to it.

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What I find most interestin... (Below threshold)

January 20, 2011 2:12 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

What I find most interesting is the "internet style" of storytelling, where we're doing visual mashups of old scenes and genres so that all times & styles exist at once . . . for instance, in the Transformers trailer, we're all disappointed because the first genre (Apollo 13 style sci fi) is really appealing, and then the second genre (soulless flashy non-80s Transformers) dashes our hopes. But in Cowboys and Aliens, we get the same thing, but without dashing (at least my) hopes for popcorn fun. It's still two completely different worlds / genres / time periods in a mashup. Also Thor - - the comic book world seems to be a whole movie that's in mashup with our earthling Hollywood "real world." In fact, I noticed this with just about all the trailers I saw before Black Swan.

What's fun about this internet aesthetic is the variety of types of imagery & tone that get contrasted. But it seems to me to really be most effective when there's a balance between two main genres / time periods, to create the highest level of coherent contrast between two specific styles and to avoid that schizophrenic feeling that the real internet sometimes offers - - that all styles means no style.

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You're an ignorent arrogant... (Below threshold)

January 23, 2011 6:15 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

You're an ignorent arrogant douche. I reeally wanted to let you know that. So there it is. :)

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A definition of insanity, r... (Below threshold)

January 23, 2011 6:25 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

A definition of insanity, repeating the same tasks expecting different results (stop watching the same movies) you seem to know nothing about mental illness at all, so don't pretend you do

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That's not a definition of ... (Below threshold)

January 24, 2011 1:53 AM | Posted by Soda Jerk: | Reply

That's not a definition of insanity, that's a definition of persistence, it's how people improve, end up becoming olympic level athletes, or rule things out in scientific inquiry. But people seem to like repeating that silly insanity definition falsehood like it was just the cleverest little simplified easy-to-understand slogan of a complex idea they ever heard.

If you're not going to be good for anything else the least you could do is contribute to the ongoing general misinformation and ignorance of people as little as possible. Just an idea.

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You're idea is wasted on me... (Below threshold)

January 24, 2011 2:51 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

You're idea is wasted on me, as unlike you silly hypocritical fanatics, I don't follow Hollywood therefore I don't have much of an opinion other than Hollywood movies are boring and cliche. So why don't you run your little theories about insanity past your speed dial therapists lol.

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You should probably run bac... (Below threshold)

January 24, 2011 2:53 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

You should probably run back to you're cheer leading white trash girlfriend mate, sounds like it's the best you can do

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Sorry, didn't realize I was... (Below threshold)

January 24, 2011 6:49 PM | Posted by Soda Jerk: | Reply

Sorry, didn't realize I was talking to the internet equivalent of a mentally ill homeless guy standing on the street incoherently rambling to anyone in ear shot. I don't know what you think your beef with hollywood movies has to do with me, I just thought maybe you should stop spreading false definitions.

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Retriever, I hope this isn'... (Below threshold)

January 25, 2011 4:52 PM | Posted, in reply to retriever's comment, by murdoog: | Reply

Retriever, I hope this isn't *too* out of line, but will you marry me?

I ask because you are the first woman I've run into who didn't like the Black Swan.

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Doesn't it seem possible th... (Below threshold)

January 25, 2011 7:21 PM | Posted by Joe: | Reply

Doesn't it seem possible that the purpose of Nina's unbelievable, atypical, and wholly unscientific crazy is to be exactly that?

Complaining about the lack of fidelity to actual patterns of madness is like complaining that the Autobots in Transformers are built wrong. They're not real, so they can't be built "wrong."

In the same way that Transformers is not an essay on engineering, Black Swan is not an essay on insanity, ballet, or swans. If it's an essay on anything (which a good film rarely is) it's an essay on an artist's struggle with identity. And a pretty damn good one by my reckoning.

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I love reading your posts, ... (Below threshold)

January 27, 2011 12:35 PM | Posted by severoon: | Reply

I love reading your posts, even this one...but I think you missed the mark here. I don't think we were seeing things from her POV. I think we were shown the world in which she imagined she needed to live in order to play the role.

In many of the scenes I think she was suspending her own disbelief intentionally in order to get wrapped up and go to the mental place she thought she needed to go. She was blending reality and twisted fantasy and intentionally putting herself in a world of caricatures, the world onstage in a ballet...everything's a drama. But I don't think it was straight-up pathological behavior...more like a trip through a method actor's mind.

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the movie was SOOOOO bad, N... (Below threshold)

February 6, 2011 7:47 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

the movie was SOOOOO bad, Natalie Portman was SOOOO boring. Neither deserves an Oscar!

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I love you... (Below threshold)

February 13, 2011 6:47 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I love you

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Your mind runs shallow.... (Below threshold)

February 16, 2011 1:46 PM | Posted by fedo: | Reply

Your mind runs shallow.

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I don't think you totally g... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2011 3:34 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I don't think you totally got this movie. Nina was incapable of maturing from the outset. The tug of war between childhood and maturity was an illusion, much like the choice between jumping from a thirty story window or staying in a burning building is an illusion. The only outcome was death; she was dead before the movie even began. She was only going through the motions of being in a breathing body.
This movie played like that scene in a slasher flick where the girl hears the noise, ignores it, goes down to the basement anyway, all while the audience is thinking "GET OUT OF THERE DONT YOU KNOW THE KILLER IS THERE???"
Nina was clearly dead as soon as we learned she existed. Everything she did was wrong. She gave access to her body and mind to the controlling director. She refused to even acknowledge the total control her mother had on her, which permeated her life and home like fog. She befriended a duplicitous and manipulative girl. All the while she remained focused on her dancing, hoping to find freedom in it, giving it more and more of herself, even while observing this destroy her idol (winona rider). Toward the end of the movie, in the throes of her madness she visit's winona rider in the hospital, returns the objects she stole from her. SHe was trying to find her way back to herself, whatever self she once had. It was too late.
Every single person in her life, and every single choice she made was progressing toward self destruction. The audience could see it, but of course the protagonist was lost from the beginning.
Her desire to be perfect was an expression of her desire to escape the conflict that stagnated her development (her abusive relationship with her mother, most likely). Her damage and fragility was obvious, and every scumbag in a 30 mile radius targeted her for this reason.

The movie was basically this young girl caught in a positive feedback loop of abuse damage and destruction, eventually consuming her. Nina was clearly a pisces. She wasn't really even alive, she was always toe into the other side.

The reason the scene between mila kunis and natalie portman was not sexy, and was actually uncomfortable and cringe worthy is because you were empathizing with Nina, who was going mad and in pain. If the scene was nothing but sex and eyecandy the movie would have been a failure. We were supposed to feel like Nina, which would be incompatible with sexual pleasure. We felt paranoid, afraid, confused, and overwhelmed instead.

Perhaps you are too literally interpreting the mother's presence during the sexual scenes. The mother was not present during sexual interactions with males (director, random drunk guys). Only when she is masturbating or potentially hallucinating lesbian relationships does she imagine her mother. The common theme is not sex, but representations of self + pleasure. Masturbation involves self pleasure. Lily was a symbol of Nina's fledgling identity as well. Conflating her mother's presence with sex with herself/women seems to represent identity conflict and her shattered ego (an inability to differentiate herself from her mother). It was implied throughout the movie that Lily might have been at times hallucinated, the rivalry exaggerated or frankly paranoid and imagined. This battle with alter ego "lily" was really a battle with nina and herself. At the end of the movie, this is clear when we learn the battle with a jealous, vicious murderous lily was actually nina fighting (and mortally wounding) herself.

The subtext beneath the subtext is that Nina's relationship with her mother is a major source of her stunted ego and failure to individualize. Lesbian scenes with hallucinated girls, and hallucinations of seeing her mother while masturbating are just a tantalizing vehicle.

Yes, the psychosis nina experiences is not medically valid, but then again this movie isn't in it for medical realism. We all know visual hallucinations in psychosis are rare. We all know psychosis usually preceded by a deterioration in function, isolation, neglected hygiene, bizarre speech/behavior well before frank hallucinations occur. Nina was functioning at a very high level, and her hallucinations were exclusively visual, with some generalized paranoia. No, this is not medically accurate. Then again, it is also not medically accurate that a ballerina can exquisitely dance the closing scene while internally bleeding. Given her fragile state from decompensated anorexia nervosa, it is certain she would have been unconscious and dead from circulatory collapse/ shock rather quickly willpower or not.
But that's just nitpicking, isn't it? Maybe for a psychiatrist it is hard for you to take this movie seriously because the psychosis was so "fake", but I am also a medical worker and I was not at all bothered by the fact nina was able to dance the black swan with internal bleeding. Yea, it's silly, but so what.
I interpreted nina a obtaining ethereal power from murdering lily (herself). This is when she transforms into the black swan completely; it also allows her to dance while bleeding internally. She lost control totally, gave into it, and so was consumed and died.
Nina was meant to die. Her allure was her vulnerability; her power was from progressing toward her destruction (anorexia, bad relationships, dance) and eventually controlling her own death (suicide in madness). It's like the power of fleeting youth - youth is relevant only because we have lost it, are growing old and will certainly die old and spent. The only way to hold on to the power of youth forever is to die young, prematurely, at your own hand, through bad choices.
Yea, it's better to burn out than to fade away sorta like that.

This is one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. I am a bit worried I relate so much to the protagonist.

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I would also point out that... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2011 3:43 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I would also point out that in this movie, as in real life cases of anorexia, pleasure from food represented lost control/childhood constraints, pleasure from sex represents the uncertainty of adulthood and self individualization.

Nina recoils from her mother's gigantic cake, presented no less on her finger. This enrages her mother, full well understanding the intent of her rejection of the food. After this, nina's mother physically strips her down, trims her nails; she dominates her body to control her.

Nina secretly experiments with sex, alone, with her alter ego lily, this small token expression of escape, promise of freedom... she is horrified to see her mother 2 steps behind her, sleeping in a chair, or pounding on a door.

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I also think you might have... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2011 4:00 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I also think you might have to be relatively young and female to appreciate this movie fully. After watching this movie, I felt how I imagine war vets felt after they saw saving private ryan:

I've lived through this.

Perhaps it's just me. It's not all girls, I'm sure, but a lot of girls, I"m sure. I've had an eating disorder. I am a bit of an obsessive compulsive personality. I've been crazy. I've been overwhelmed and confused as to what is real. I've felt that violation of privacy of others having total control over your thoughts and mind, driving you deeper into yourself, isolation, and madness to escape. I've felt as if life and death were not necessarily binary and I was somewhere dabbling in both. The pounding and intense way nina vizualizes every minor thing her world - every event hypermagnified, the smallest objects sounds and noises and events - I know this. I know how it is to be a vessel, a magnet, taking all of the pain in, never asserting or expressing yourself; it turns you inside out, leaves you dormant in torpor. You become so barren of yourself that death seems like freedom, you might as well terminate yourself, return your energy to life.

I am fairly sure the director is closely related to someone who has had anorexia (redundant with OCPD, the hypermagnified passive way she views her world, and the other personality characteristics of nina sayers).

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"Here's an example: the pre... (Below threshold)

February 23, 2011 10:12 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"Here's an example: the preview before Black Swan was for a super cool movie that I really want to see right up to the part that it turns out to be a Transformer."

Wow, the EXACT same thing happened to me!

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The Black Swan: A Lesson in... (Below threshold)

February 27, 2011 8:25 PM | Posted by Adviser: | Reply

The Black Swan: A Lesson in Parent/Child Relationships

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he was 'involved with' one.... (Below threshold)

March 10, 2011 11:45 AM | Posted, in reply to DCF's comment, by Susan: | Reply

he was 'involved with' one. And a dancer as well.

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I think the film is just a ... (Below threshold)

March 14, 2011 12:52 PM | Posted by Flavia: | Reply

I think the film is just a representation of what she felt preparing herself for the part.

I don't think Nina ever did those things, but they were shown to us this way so we could feel the same feeling Nina was feeling.

I guess, everybody watching the film got anxious, afraid, curious and everything else people feel before doing something that is challenging for them. Nobody knew what was going to happen in the end. Nobody knew if she was going to be able to be perfect.

I think the obvious aspect of the film was made this way so anyone could connect to it.

Nina never really killed herself or hit anyone is was just a figurative way to show her killing her sweet side in order to open space to her dark side, or pushing her protective mom away.

In the end of the movie, you see her saying "I was perfect", and I think this is what we say when we accomplish something we had put so much into.

And about the sex, I think the presence of the mother means her mother never allowed her to do things by her own (mother living through daughter thing), so it is like she had to have mommy seeing how much she's grown.

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In the end of the movie, yo... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2011 8:33 PM | Posted by Monster Energy Hats: | Reply

In the end of the movie, you see her saying "I was perfect", and I think this is what we say when we accomplish something we had put so much into.

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A person who needs to work ... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2011 5:17 AM | Posted by oh-one: | Reply

A person who needs to work hard at a profession would have abandoned such a mother (fathers are different)


Will you make a post about obsessive controlling fathers at some time in the future ?

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I don't know what to think ... (Below threshold)

April 27, 2011 4:25 PM | Posted by Rah: | Reply

I don't know what to think after seeing this review. My co-workers at DISH and some friends have told me that this movie was an excellent movie. Most all the reviews have said the some things but this review has me a little confused. DISH has just released the movie on PPV in HD and i think my best way to go is watching the movie see what others are saying compared to everything you have pointed out. I really like Natalie Portman and I hope it's a good movie at least to me.

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"Will you make a post about... (Below threshold)

August 13, 2011 5:22 PM | Posted, in reply to oh-one's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"Will you make a post about obsessive controlling fathers at some time in the future ?"


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Thanks for your review. I j... (Below threshold)

January 31, 2012 2:09 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Thanks for your review. I just watched the movie, a rental. Tho i dont know psychiatry at all i did think there was an awful lot of neuroses going on. I mean the girl would be heavily medicated to deal with the delusional thinking alone. What was your take on the Wynona Ryder character? The stabbing herself in the face scene was hollywood-over-the-top and disturbing to say the least

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I think you have missed the... (Below threshold)

January 31, 2012 7:32 PM | Posted by survivor: | Reply

I think you have missed the deeper point of this movie. I just got up the nerve to finally watch it last night and as I suspected, it came down on me pretty hard. I think you have to be a survivor to understand the undertones of this film and how hard it hits the target. You have to take her hallucinations out of this to find the truth. You also have to take the adulthood of Nina out of it as well and this is where I 100% agree with you. We leave when we are old enough to fight off the Narcissist. Those were definitely for Hollywood's sake.
I am a survivor of one of the most gifted Narcissists on the planet. It was like watching my life unfold on the screen. There are tones of incestuous relations between the mother and Nina but I think it is deeper then sex. Sexual dysfunction, lack of self esteem and complete insecurity are only a few of the manifestations of the abuse from the narcissist.
It is about the way a narcissists warps reality to fit their world. They are the gifted one, the one that is a breath away from greatness that the world has never know all if not for YOU. My Mother actually thought she was magical yet able to be normal in public, even adored. There was a forever pull between deep emotional and physical abuse and deep love and nurturing. There are no boundaries for the Narcissists. You are an extension of them so picking their zits, washing their feet, brushing their hair and they cutting your fingernails till they bleed is all part of they making you a better person. It is a sick twisted world that sexual abuse does not even dare to go down. Only someone who has survived it can understand. One example of a day in my childhood life.
As a 4 year old I am playing with my dolls and horse statues on the living room floor. My Mother is talking to herself about how great she is and how she is the best at this or that. She then goes to the bathroom, comes back, sits down staring at me like she wants to kill me. Then in a wild animalistic fit of rage she jumps up, grabs me by the hair, shakes and smashes my head into the floor. I am caught completely off guard. She then drags me across the room and down our hallway to the bathroom by the hair. She pulls me up by my hair and smashes my face into the dirty cloths bin in the bathroom. "I told you to never put a wet wash cloth in the dirty cloth bin. You know how I hate that, it is my pet peeve." Meanwhile shaking me by my head like a rag doll. I beg for her to stop and that I did not do it. (you learn real quick not to deny anything they say) She hits me hard in the face and my nose gushes with blood all over my little shirt and the floor and bathroom rug. I then get a beating for bleeding on my cloths and the floor. She makes me clean it up. She strips me down naked and puts my cloths in the wash and throws fresh cloths in my face for me to dress myself. I am called a "Filthy liar" repeating. I run and hide in my closet until she demands I come out and play, that I am an over emotional baby. I am forced to play in the same room again while she again talks to herself. It is hard to explain but even as a small child I feel like I am going mad so I dive into fantasy and pretend I am a princess with 100 horses and that I can fly away on one of them into the clouds. I dream repeatedly of this. Pretty soon she asks me very nicely to come to her. "Show me your fingers" I have started to tear at my finger nails and the skin around them and this is another "Pet Peeve" She strikes me hard in the head not wanting any more blood on her carpet and drags me again by the hair to the floor. She sits on the floor cutting my finger nails so short that they bleed and pushing my cuticles down so far that the pain is unbearable. I dare not cry or scream, that makes it worse for me so I take it, and go to my happy princess world and think of when my father gets home so I can maybe talk him into taking me to the river fishing and away from her. My fingers hurt for days but I continue to tear at them, I can't help it, it feels good to make myself hurt. That night she makes me sit at her feet like always and she reads me a story and tells me how I am going to grow up to be a famous artist, she is so proud of me, her beautiful little girl. She then makes me scratch her back and pop all her zits on her back for about a half hour(She had a terrible skin condition)then I must kiss her goodnight and tell her I love her. At night I wet the bed, Terrified of getting a terrible beating. I stay up all night and air the sheets out hanging them out my window. I think about jumping out of it a story below and how it would feel to hit the grass but then I get mad and I already promise myself she will never break me. I am 4. One second in my day I am playing with a doll and then my day begins with the monster that you never know when or how they will attack or what will set them off. It could be your singing outside, it could be the tiny stain on your dress or a toy you forgot to put away. It could be something you did not do or do not even understand but it is always going to happen almost every single day. So you wait and prepare.
I would have rather been sexually molested! This movie is about the sick dance between normal and abnormal, boundaries and no boundaries, Feeling safe and feeling horrified all without anything in the middle. To a child it is madness and how I survived is a miracle. This movie touched on things that are unmistakable to a survivor.
This movie takes you down a road that destroys a human soul.

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Hallywood cheats? What do y... (Below threshold)

March 10, 2012 5:58 AM | Posted by burned out researcher: | Reply

Hallywood cheats? What do you think we researchers do in order to publish? We copy and paste other group's methods and changed the study subject and title - then vola, here is another published article that nobody will read ever! At least Hallywood cheats result in much bigger impact to our society!

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Portman, as a genuine talen... (Below threshold)

April 21, 2012 5:24 AM | Posted by Now Wow: | Reply

Portman, as a genuine talent, should be
far, far, far beyond such slick and routine
demoralization ops and torture porn as
'Black Swan'.

As full spectrum surveillance, and the
Globalist capstone EUGENICS agenda unfolds
undeniably on every front, she should be demanding
material that's fresh and spiritually defiant and

--------WHY is she so lame in this regard?

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One of the things I like ab... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2012 10:46 AM | Posted by Trebuchette: | Reply

One of the things I like about this movie is that it hits raw nerves in people with a wide variety of issues. But it irritates me when people think the movie is primarily about the mother-daughter relationship or an abusive childhood. (Think of it this way: no ballet, no psychoses.)

But I also don't like when the psych field suggests Nina has too many MIs to be believable; what about comorbidity? We know Nina had been skin-picking long before the Black Swan role; her mom was used to cutting Nina's nails. What we don't know is why Nina skin-picked: was it OCD, or was she hallucinating stuff in her skin all along, or was it Aronfsky's way to mislead the viewers?

Ultimately, the movie is a harsh commentary about ballet. Nina wasn't that unusual for a company dancer, just extreme (of course). It seems that the only time the character feels happiness is ...oh, that's right, she doesn't. Nina doesn't really have personal goals, friends, or really any kind of life whatsoever; outside of dance, she's observing, but not living.

But all the other characters are just interpretations of the titular character. Eg, Tomas is presented as an attractive, god-like figure, a view challenged only when Lily makes the observation that Tomas is a dick. Such seemingly out-of-place statements from the other characters is harsh reality poking through Nina's reality.

Unfortunately for the viewer, those oddball statements (which are frequent throughout the movie) may or may not be real. Did Beth really ask Nina bout sucking cock? Did Mom really ask if Nina was "ready for" her? If not, why is Nina interpreting things the way she is?

That question is what makes the movie successful: we remain vexed, and curious, about why Nina deep-sixed herself. And if she'd been abused; or what her life was like before (since her skin picking wasn't new). Was she really so frigid...?

I suspect Nina had a wild side that she kept under control (she smoked without coughing; at no point did she seem to suffer a broken hymen), and that ultimately she valued a perfect performance over her life. In a spectacular way.

And that the movie is about dancers' psyches. If you want that role, you have to be inhumanly perfect (Nina), OR you have to use drugs (Lily), OR you have to sell your body and soul (Beth), ELSE you simply don't succeed (the mom).

(LOVED the movie.)

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I think most reviewers and ... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2013 12:14 AM | Posted by Steven: | Reply

I think most reviewers and bloggers do not give (or perhaps give too much) credit to the character of Nina from a psychological point of view. I think she is a victim - but not of Thomas and the pressures of Swan Lake. I think she was a victim before the film even started. More specifically, in my opinion, Nina is being portrayed as a pathological narcissist. I am not talking about the stereotype who struts around with overconfidence and refers to himself in the third person, as portrayed in popular film/TV. It is actually not uncommon for pathological narcissists to be socially withdrawn. Indeed, it seems to me that Nina exhibits at least 5 of the 9 signs for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. (She could exhibit others if we could get her on the couch and ask the right questions.) In any event, think about the very first scene in her dream sequence - a lone spotlight on Nina all by herself. And then there are all of the mirrors - specifically, think about the first time she looks in a reflective surface (the subway train window, right before she may have seen her first doppelganger), where she's clearly checking herself out. Think about the look on her face in the extended shot as Nina first leaves the stage as the Black Swan, with the audience chanting her name (which is probably an auditory hallucination, given the mid-performance decorum at the ballet). And think about the very last lines of the film uttered on her literal death bed - "I felt it. Perfect. I am perfect." (It is not merely about striving for perfection, which any emotionally healthy person knows is not possible; it is about FEELING and BEING perfection.)

Even Freud (in his essay, "On Narcissism") connected pathological or "secondary" narcissism to psychosis and auto-eroticism. In this sense, Black Swan is not so much a doppelganger film as a film about self-objectification (a key aspect of pathological narcissism). Think about the titular scene (fueled by ecstasy) you discussed like this: Nina is not FANTASIZING about making love to Lily, she is ACTUALLY making love to HERSELF. The doppelganger is merely the tip of a bigger iceberg - by the finale of the film, she is no longer seeing her own face on Lily (i.e., the purported doppelganger), but she is seeing her own face on EVERY dancer. I would argue that this is not just random stress-induced psychosis - there is a meaning to WHY Aronofsky is portraying this in such a particular manner. And with respect to the mother, the apple does not fall far from the tree - most pathological narcissists have at least one parent who is also NPD.

As for the the character's duality, it is important to note that pathological narcissism involves a split of the psyche - between the "True Self" and the self-generated grandiose, omnipotent, invulnerable "False Self." And perhaps if one finds that a carefully constructed False Self (White Swan) is inconsistent and insufficient to obtain the the necessary "Narcissistic Supply" (attention and adoration), one might need to create ANOTHER False Self (Black Swan). Is this possible without losing one's mind? In any case, the real tragedy is that with pathological narcissism, the True Self is largely lost. Is this all clinically precise? Probably not, but Black Swan IS a dramatic film, not a documentary.

What seems to be important is that this duality is visually represented throughout the film not just with respect to Nina. (Watching carefully, you will run across double images of Thomas, the other dancers, her mother, etc.) And since Black Swan is not a very personal story about Nina (i.e., we know nothing about the damage or emotional trauma that would give rise to her condition), I believe Aronofsky may be using the dramatic extremes (narrative and visual) to make a more general statement about the great artists/performers: What kind of person does it take to do these sorts of demanding things (e.g., ballet), and how many of us would want to be in their heads?

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Your first and last mistake... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2013 1:19 AM | Posted, in reply to retriever's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Your first and last mistake was basing your cinematic taste on politics.

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It is important to dress to... (Below threshold)

April 29, 2013 1:58 AM | Posted by Chuck: | Reply

It is important to dress to impress, but comfort also matters. Of course, this person did not have a pic of herself but a sports logo instead. It is much easier to have a sincere conversation with an online stranger than it is to talk to a coworker or neighbor.

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I was told about this movie... (Below threshold)

December 16, 2013 12:02 PM | Posted by Nessus: | Reply

I was told about this movie in the kind of high-pitched, emotional tones one reserves for a happy, exciting event. Not the most fun ten minutes, as I was constantly wondering if I was supposed to seem excited at the girl/girl sex scene or running and screaming SHUT UP at the descriptions of the controlling mother. At least I'll never have to sit through it!

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I'm so sad to hear that the... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2014 11:32 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I'm so sad to hear that there are so many people that disliked this movie. I am not a psychiatrist and not particularly smart (or maybe I just don't know how to sound smart commenting on this) but I thought it was a beautiful film. I would definitely agree that this was an inaccurate portrayal of mental disorders, but I also do not think this was the primary goal of the writer or the director. I took 2 key points out of this movie:

1. "Letting go" is an unfathomable thing to do for any perfectionist or intelligent human. It is just not a concept that is understandable and is probably the biggest downfall of the human experience. Knowledge, intelligence and curiosity prevent us from living free.
2. Drugs change your life. This part of the movie was overlooked in the review but I think it is one of the most significant parts of the movie. MDMA or whatever was in that gel cap was what triggered Nina's letting go, and I believe that is very realistic.

What I loved most about this movie was not that it was accurate or inspirational or awareness-raising like most unintelligent movies of the 21st century. There was no moral, no twist ending, no speeches about raising awareness on the subject of schizophrenia or any of that Hollywood BS. It was how wrong and gross I felt with myself and the movie afterwards. The sex scene was not boring, it was wrong, anti-climactic and not at all glamorous. I do not think the purpose of that sex scene was to create buzz or make the film sexy.

I watched this movie once when I was 16 and was so grossed out and uncomfortable that I forgot about it for 3 years. I went back to it because I was interested in how disgusting it made me feel and now I love it.

Moral of the story, give it another chance and drugs change your life.

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I've never seen the film bu... (Below threshold)

August 16, 2014 9:42 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by johnnycoconut: | Reply

I've never seen the film but that was beautifully written

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...as was the post, whether... (Below threshold)

August 17, 2014 3:18 PM | Posted by johnnycoconut: | Reply

...as was the post, whether it was was all true or not.

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