Black Swan: Analysis of a Cinematic Masterpiece

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Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010) is a psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky and released in 2010, starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel amongst its principal cast. The storyline revolves around Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballerina who faces the pressures of embodying both Odette (the White Swan) and Odile (the Black Swan), who she particularly struggles with, for a production of Swan Lake in her ballet company (Darren Aronofsky, 2010). This essay focuses on one of the climatic moments of the film, specifically wherein it is evident that she has finally ?let go? and has successfully personified the Black Swan, both in body and mind. As she performs one of her final dances, it is a combination of different elements of mise-en-scne, namely acting and costume, lighting, props and sets and setting that contribute to the depiction of the central theme of the film ? her identification and awaited embodiment of the Black Swan. Furthermore, an analysis of the cinematography, sound and editing (namely special effects) similarly contribute to Nina?s characterization and the drastic, impassioned transformation she undergoes in the heart of this scene.

The acting, costumes and makeup work in relation to each other as integral aspects of characterization. As the scene opens, Nina is dressed in the ballerina costume of Odile, or the Black Swan, flaunting a black attire and dark makeup. Although this essay will further discuss the elements that signify her final transformation into this persona, costume is necessary for a basic, fundamental understanding because it prompts a viewer?s immediate recognition of a character. Contextually, while presently Nina?s dark appearance is suggestive of her personification of the Black Swan, previously throughout in the film, she often dresses in white or pink. Her former appearance is indicative of her naivet and virginal mentality, reflecting the attributes of Odette, or the White Swan. Consequently, viewers find her former look easily discernible from her current dark, passionate demeanour. Additionally, prior to production, Natalie Portman?s training to physically transform into a ballerina?s body aids in emphasizing the physiological strain her character Nina undergoes to achieve her complete metamorphosis. In scenes that display her back, her muscles and bone structure, as she makes her movements, begin to strikingly resemble those of a swan. Since preparation is an integral aspect of acting, this showcases that bodily resemblance to a character contributes to an actor?s ability to produce an act that is symbolically and characteristically relevant to the role and the film?s inherent themes.

Lighting and cinematography work interdependently for the purpose of conveying the effect of Nina?s transformation on her psyche. Leading up to the finale of this act, the point-of-view shot alternates between Nina and the audience, which is achieved using the shot reverse shot. This advances towards the climax with a long shot, seen from the point-of-view of the audience which portrays Nina?s singular figure contrasting against two of its shadows in the background. This effect is achieved using frontal lighting, which results in two outcomes ? i) highlighting Nina?s figure and ii) creating prominent shadows in the background. By only highlighting Nina?s form and leaving the audience in the dark, by way of contrast this scene depicts the shedding of Nina?s self-consciousness and repression and highlights her singular dedication towards self-expression. Meanwhile, the significance of the double shadows lies thematically in the motif of duality and how she finally perceives herself to embody both the Black Swan and White Swan physically and mentally. Hence, the twin forces of lighting and cinematography help in creating a vital symbol of the transformation that Nina strives to achieve through the course of the film.

The relationship between postproduction (specifically editing), props and sound is integral for the effect of Nina?s performance on her self-image and the audience. As the climax is nearing, Nina?s hands begin to develop a scaly texture and feathers that gradually grow into full-fledged wings. These special effects are achieved using Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI), which relies on motion-capture technology to track the stages of the gradual transformation of her features from that of human to swan. Since this effect cannot be achieved merely using the artist-rendered makeup, prosthetics and props (i.e., feathers that transform into wings), this scene relies on postproduction work, or special effects to accomplish this result. This display is enhanced using diegetic sound. While the score, which happens to be Tchaikovsky?s Swan Lake plays in the background because of its relevance to the dance?s storyline, the flapping of her wings is emphasized through sound mixing when she twirls ? a sound that is exclusive to Nina and the viewers, contributing to its realism. However, through the use of a shot reverse shot it is noticeable that from the audience?s point-of-view, these feathers and wings do not exist and the shot progresses to display Nina?s bare hands. Through this camera technique, viewers can experience this scene from the eyes of the audience as well as Nina and observe how starkly both perspectives contrast. This conveys that while the audience views this as a formal dance performance, to Nina it is a transformative, out-of-body experience. It contributes to the greater theme that Nina is so immersed in the act that she perceives herself to have physically embodied the character that she strives to personify.

The physical set works correlatively with the psychological setting of her mind. Long, silver gates open on a black stage as they cue both Nina?s re-entry into the dance narrative as well as the euphoric, fervent re-emergence of Odile, the Black Swan. The closer she moves into the foreground of the stage, the more intense is Odile?s arrival, reflecting Nina?s transforming psyche. Contrastingly, towards the closing of the sequence and of this scene, the further she moves away from the stage and towards her dressing room, the more fearful and fragile her expressions become, the dark personality slowly drifting away. This signifies that the stage is integral to her expression of Odile, a form in which Nina can shed her fears and inhibitions. Hence, her physical surroundings are essential for the understanding of her mental state and consequently, the transformative process she experiences.

In conclusion, this scene is crucial in displaying Nina?s final metamorphosis into Odile, the Black Swan. This transformation was depicted with the use of several technical aspects that went into the making of this scene, namely cinematography, special effects, sound and the components of mise-en-scne. Upon analysis, it is evident that these elements constitute what creates the effect of her dynamic characterization, reflected in the way that her physicality and psyche alter in this scene.

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