I’ve never seen Swan Lake. While Black Swan might’ve made me think twice about paying attention to ballet, somehow I doubt I would be as captivated in the performance over the performer’s transformation.
I felt a lot of thematic similarities between Black Swan and Dollhouse – they’re both stories about the work of actors, of taking on new personas, and new roles in ways that are so dramatically different from yourself that you lose yourself in a character.
Here, we see Nina Sayers named as the “Swan Queen” of a new Swan Lake production. The role requires her to play both the White Swan, the innocent, beautiful, and absolutely plain maiden-turned-swan, and the Black Swan, her, seductive and exotic bitch of a twin. Nina already embodies the White Swan, as she’s the controlled, precise, twenty-year-old-going-on-twelve, so this narrative is about her journey in breaking out of that shell and embrace her dangerous and independent opposite. By use of drugs and a history of a nervous or stress disorder, the narrative achieves that transformation with the help of a psychotic break.
As Nina experiences failure after failure in her rehearsals as the Black Swan, she keeps seeing herself as other, more confident members of her ballet company. She keeps seeing herself out performed, and her mother keeps pushing her to push away any rebellious streaks, and Nina struggles to reign in her emotions in as she’s torn with half of her world telling her to let go, and the other half telling her to keep everything in.
And really, who hasn’t felt that way before? Who hasn’t felt pulled between two different worlds counting on you to be something different? Just as Nina embodies a complete Other as the Black Swan, who doesn’t take on different roles at work, or at home? As Nina works to give in to this Other, she experiences a lot of bleed through (figuratively and literally, unfortunately for my stomach). As she loses herself, she forgets her place in the different contexts she is in, lashing out at others as she begins to exert control in her life, rather than exerting control on her self.
So, like Dollhouse, maybe it’s something of a cautionary tale – something to tell the story of why it’s important not to be more than you are, or to be someone else. Kind of a darker take over classic Disney tales that are kind of about being awesome by being yourself, but also about how being yourself turns you into something different (Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Mulan, Cinderella, etc.). Or maybe adulthood just has an excess of feeling trapped, and due to our wiser, less optimistic selves, we don’t really imagine that everything will work out for the best anymore.
Adulthood! Evolve and adapt until you can’t… and then you’ll probably self-destruct. That’s depressing. And probably the cause of the whole “mid-life crisis” business (generativity v. stagnation, hey?).