I can get scared by the supernatural, paranormal, and murderers, but what terrifies me most is the human mind. How far into dangerous territory can you let your thoughts wander? When certainty of your own reality is lost, what do you have left? I desperately hoped for something in the case of perfect-but-not-perfect-enough Nina Sayers of Black Swan.
A twenty-something prima ballerina, Nina wakes up every morning in a pink room filled with stuffed animals, practices at a prestigious ballet company during the day, and comes home to her mom, who gets Nina in her pajamas, tucks her into bed, and places on her nightstand a tune-churning jewelry box complete with a spinning ballerina. There's too much going on to simply label her a stage mother, but there's no doubt she's passed perfectionism down to her daughter, of whom she has painted portraits hanging in her room, not totally unlike Crazy Joe Davola's Elaine wall. (Alright, they're different things, but Seinfeld is my default after thrillers.)
Nina gets the part in her company's Swan Lake of the Swan Queen, a girl who becomes a white swan by a sorcerer's curse and then a black one by a demon's seduction. The prince chooses another girl and the ballet ends with the swan killing herself. Her director, Thomas, is a manipulative genius asshole whom Nina believes to be brilliant, and his less than stellar pep talks -- which include phrases like, "Would you f--- her? No one would," -- are sure to inspire catchy phrases in the makers of those little star-shaped stickers that elementary teachers use to grade homework.
Along with motivational speaking, his technique involves sexual manipulation, and he bases Nina's self-exploration on that. She has the pure and innocent white swan down, but her black one is too obedient. To achieve perfection within the role, she must bring out what she considers one of many imperfections of her own -- passion. Thomas tells her to lose herself.
Nina does just that. Due to her tendency to step outside and view herself through the eyes of those she must please, her reflection starts making recurring appearances, oftentimes in the new dancer and Swan Queen understudy, Lily. Lily embodies all that is dangerous to Nina -- she eats, she takes drugs, she has a sex and social life, she screws up a turn and allows herself to move on. Though Nina is convinced her dark side is her minor flirtatiousness with all of these threats, her real black swan lies more in her obsessive discipline to repress feelings related to any of the above. After all, it's from a self-inflicted wound that black feathers begin to sprout along her back.
Now, the fun and less scary part that was comforting when I was the only one still awake last night and was scared to walk past a mirror, Rodarte did the ballet costumes! The only screencaps online are from the trailer so it's hard to find good photos of the black swan costume, which, in an overly analytical way, is so perfect.
Left is the ballet's white swan, the more vulnerable one on the right is from a dream sequence where she imagines herself as the part before she gets it.
Photo by Autumn de Wilde, with sister Laura on the left. And sister Kate's (I like referring to them that way because then they sound like nuns who love Japanese horror movies) sketches:
The black swan was wisely made darker in ways less obvious than color, one being that feathers grew out from under one side like mutation while the white swan's feathers delicately shaped the symmetrical bodice. The black swan also wears a veil, but it's hard to get into that without spoiling part of the end. It is entirely possible I'm reading too much into this, too, but details are so important with Rodarte!
The sisters have mastered the act of combining fantasy with a harsher and disturbingly familiar reality, and were perfect to help Nina blur the lines between herself and her role. Along with suiting Swan Lake so well and helping to parallel the story of the swan with Nina's own breakdown, the costumes also accentuate her darkness once she indulges most fully. She experiences the consequences of this indulgence while back in the white costume, giving us a contrast that defines her idea of perfect. What's terrifying is that by that point we're so wrapped up in her head that it actually makes sense.