By Bridget Yu (Bugle Team)

Black Swan (2010) is a truly eye-catching piece of cinematography featuring several highly interesting psychological phenomena. For those who have never watched it before, below is a brief synopsis.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a young dancer in New York City Ballet Company. The company is casting a new principle dancer for Sawn Lake for its season opening. The production’s director feels Nina has got perfect techniques for the role of the White Swan, yet believes she lacks the passion to be the Black Swan. This is devastating to Nina, as the director wants both roles to be performed by the same dancer. Nina wants to be this principle dancer so badly that she forced herself to change. Although she ultimately got the role as the Swan Queen, the director continues to criticise her on her technically perfect but cold, machine-like dancing which doesn’t fit the wild character of the Black Swan. Nina tries her very best and uses every method that she could conceive of to loosen herself up, but these prove highly self-destructive. At the final performance, she finally loses herself and transforms into a perfect incarnation of the passionate Black Swan.. However, in achieving this transformation, she loses her true self and begins to suffer from a litany of mental distresses. While she achieves her sought-after perfection, she also loses everything that she had.


There are lots of portrayals of psychological phenomenon in the movie which are worthy of note. However, obsessiveness and schizophrenia are the two most prominently featured. Nina is obsessed with perfection, making it difficult for her loosen up and speak openly about her feelings. This leads to her tragic final statement at the movie’s close: “I felt it. Perfect. I was perfect.” Striving for perfection is relatively common within the general population, yet not to this self-destructive extent. Indeed, perfectionism on this scale can be a sign of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Individuals with this disorder are usually very self-conscious and stiff when interacting with other people, feeling comfortable only when they are in a highly controlled condition. They may feel uncomfortable when they are with people who are emotionally expressive and they often do things only when they think they’ve made them perfect. In the movie, Nina will only accept her dancing when it is perfectly performed: she is preoccupied with the details and rules for each and every moves, leading her become the perfect, conformist White Swan. This personality disorder is often diagnosed in adulthood as a child or teen is still under constant development, their personality might change dramatically. The cause for this disorder is still uncertain but most professionals thinks it’s due to a combination of genetic, social and psychological factors.

An informed audience should be able to spot that Nina is suffering from symptoms within the psychological disorder schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a disorder of mind that affects how we think, feel and behave. Sometimes when Nina is looking into herself in the mirror, her reflection’s actions are inconsistent with her own. Such visual hallucinations can be the result of highly developed schizophrenia. So, if you find Nina’s behaviour in the last part of the movie confusing, you are supposed to: you are being shown her  hallucinations. Although nobody knows the exact cause for the condition, most experts believed that it is a result of the combination of genetic and environmental factors, with high levels of stress often being cited as an instigating factor. For Nina, there’s no doubt that she’s experiencing highly stressful competition in the company. Her performance, her conflicted relationship with her mother and comments from her demanding, manipulative director were distressing her greatly.


Some say ballet is an art while others say it’s a sport. The process which Nina opens up herself is also a process for her to grow, develop and explore herself, including her dark side. This movie was so overwhelming it left me speechless. For those who haven’t seen it before, I would highly recommend it.

Check out the links below to learn more about both obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and schizophrenia.