Lipstick and Blood - an analysis of Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

Many thanks to MrZkinandBonezTheSecond from Rob Ager's Collative Learning forum, where film analysis is discussed by people who do it much better than I do, for helping me work out this analysis.

It took a long time to complete the Black Swan analysis. Several times I thought it was done, but each time new lines of inquiry suggested themselves, often as I was re-watching to check on something or to get screen grabs, or as a few things I had already written merged in the crucible of my subconscious to suggest yet more layers of symbolic meaning I hadn't noticed yet. What started as a much smaller analysis has continued to grow to a point that I find astonishing. This is my first attempt at a fully developed analysis, and I must say I am amazed at how much symbolism Aronofsky and company have embedded in this film. So I developed it in place here on the blog over a period of months. I believe at last it is finished.

In this analysis I'll break down the elements of the film Black Swan to demonstrate how Aronofsky embedded the themes into it - primarily these:

1) Professional Ballet (and by extension all performing arts/mass media) attracts and uses up young hopefuls filled with big dreams - only one in thousands get to actually live the dream, and the training and eating disorders destroy young bodies while the stress destroys lives.
2) Nina is a victim of certain types of child abuse that systematically destroyed her self esteem, sexuality, and sense of personal power and rendered her vulnerable to further predation.  
3) In the end Nina achieves Transcendence/Individuation.

The film uses certain motifs to illustrate these themes:

1) Forest, flower and birdcage imagery associated with the main characters
2) Strategic use of colors
3) Visual illusions of characters splitting
4) Infinitely repeating reflections in many different forms
5) Butterfly imagery and Christ symbolism

The point of this analysis isn't so much to prove that the themes are  there - they're really not hidden. I want to examine how Aronofsky and company revealed those themes using the motifs listed above. In order to do this properly, a film analyst needs to examine the film itself as well as the production and supplemental information like interviews, featurettes, articles and other films made by the director. It's also important to note any influences, such as other movies the film might reference. 

Before launching into the analysis itself I want to list a few things that will help with understanding the themes. It's a very pshychology-heavy film, but I don't believe Aronofsky was trying to depict any particular psychological conditions with any great precision. I believe he rather freely lumped together aspects of a few related conditions, but he does seem to have favored sexual boundary violations in particular. People have speculated about schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder, but I think the hallucinations and splitting in the movie are used mostly in a dramatically compelling way and I don't believe it was strictly based on any particular condition, so in this analysis I won't refer to any specific psychological conditions except in a speculative way.

Ok, on with the background information:

 Black Swan is a melodrama. It's important to understand what that means- I've heard a lot of people say things like "Oh god, not another movie where Natalie Portman cries all the time!" or "It's completely over the top - not believable at all!" Once you understand what melodrama really is, these complaints become completely irrelevant. Here's some good info:


1. a sensational dramatic piece with exaggerated characters and exciting events intended to appeal to the emotions.

the genre of melodrama.
language, behavior, or events that resemble melodrama: "what little is known of his early life is cloaked in melodrama"
2. a play interspersed with songs and orchestral music accompanying the action.


Female Melodrama as a genre in film, theater and literature etc:
“Female Melodrama differs from women’s fiction in that it is always centered on tragedy, usually involving family relationships; it is sometimes open-ended and goes over-the-top in emotionality and sentiment as it primarily focuses on a Victim.”
(Emphasis mine)

Aronofsky literally hit every one of these criteria for melodrama - even the historical description with orchestral music! Absolutely textbook. I'd also like to point out that it's built around a ballet which itself is very melodramatic. If you're going to use Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake as the score for your film, you really have no choice by to go over the top - there's nothing subtle about it! And of course, a more 'realistic' movie wouldn't have the same level of dramatic power or emotional appeal. People who judge movies strictly on how 'realistic' they are are making a common mistake - there's no rule that says any work of art needs to be believable or realistic. 

Influence from other films:
Here's a list of some of the films being referenced, followed by brief anecdotes about some of them.
  • REPULSION Roman Polanski 
  • THE RED SHOES Michael Powell 
  • SUSPIRIA Dario Argento 
  • THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VÉRONIQUE Krzysztof Kieślowski 
  • SHOWGIRLS Paul Verhoeven 
  • PERFECT BLUE Satoshi Kon 
  • CARRIE Brian De Palma 
  • A DOUBLE LIFE George Cukor 
  • THE FLY David Cronenberg 
  • PSYCHO Alfred Hitchcock 
  • BLACK NARCISSUS Michael Powell
  • FIGHT CLUB David Fincher
Mulholland Drive and Showgirls - (both subversive melodramas like Black Swan) have been frequently cited as influences, and both are about beautiful young women trying to make it big in Hollywood (Mulholland Drive) and Las Vegas (Showgirls). In Mulholland Drive the protagonist fails and creates a dreamlike narrative of happiness and success that collapses at the end revealing her stark reality and the fact that she murdered a friend who was more successful than herself out of jealousy and in an attempt to take her place (obviously very similar thematically to Black Swan). Showgirls takes place in a seedy world of strip clubs and topless dance reviews where the girls are seen as only one step removed from prostitutes and the club owners are basically pimps (and at the end a highway sign shows the protagonist is now headed toward Los Angeles and Hollywood). Both of those films also feature Doppelgängers, or dark doubles of the protagonists, like Black Swan does. 

Polanski’s Repulsion is a mod 60’s melodrama about a sheltered girl who’s too timid to face life and, when she has to spend a week alone without the older sister who has always protected and cared for her the pressure is too much and she cracks and starts experiencing horrific hallucinations and paranoia, and in her panic she murders several men.  Obvious ties with Black Swan, including a really powerful scene involving nail scissors and a lot of blood. 

The Birds - Hitchcock’s thriller was filled with subliminal imagery depicting the main female characters as birds trapped in a cage. He carried the same theme to some extent into Psycho as well. 

Cronenberg’s The Fly - body horror movie featuring a visceral transformation into an animal. 

Nina plucks a tiny feather from behind her shoulder in imitation of the way 
Geena Davis pulls the Fly hair from Jeff Goldblum’s back.

Girl Fight Club - A lot of similarities with Fight Club. See the amazing Jack Durden analysis - it goes deeper than most people even begin to suspect. Though the author of that analysis believes practically all of the secondary characters are complete figments of the narrator's fragmented psyche - I'm not sure how far I buy into that. He may be right though.

While Lily is not completely imaginary, she is a doppelgänger just as Tyler was for Edward Norton's  unnamed character (The name Jack was taken from a series of medical pamphlets - "I am Jack's whatever"). And in both films the main character is weak and ineffectual while the doppelgänger is everything they want to be - dangerous, sexual, and capable of doing what the main character can't but must do. Near the end of each film the main character symbolically kills off the doppelgänger and absorbs the traits they represent, and is physically damaged in the attempt. Fatally in Nina's case (apparently) but less so in Fight Club.

I know this list is incomplete - for instance I remember reading about a European ballet film that inspired a couple of scenes - namely the one where Thomas walks through and taps dancers on the shoulder, and also the one where Nina breaks in her dance shoes and scores the soles with scissors. Unfortunately I can't remember the name of it. If anyone knows what that film was, or any others I'm missing, please leave a comment, I'd love to add that information. 

Many of the films listed above are melodramas, and many of them feature doppelgangers:

Wikipedia has this to say about Doppelgängers:
"In fiction and folklore, a doppelgänger (German "double walker") is a paranormal double of a living person, typically representing evil or misfortune. In modern vernacular it is simply any double or look-alike of a person. It also describes the sensation of having glimpsed oneself in peripheral vision, in a place where there is no chance that it could have been a reflection. Doppelgängers often are perceived as a sinister form of bilocation and are regarded by some to be harbingers of bad luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person's friends or relatives portends illness or danger, while seeing one's own doppelgänger is an omen of death."

Natalie Portman's "Dance Double" controversy
From Aronofsky's Wikipedia page:

"There was substantial media attention given to a dance double controversy over how much credit for the dancing in the film was being given to Portman, and how much to her "dance double", American Ballet Theatre soloist Sarah Lane.[93] In response, people involved with the film (particularly Aronofsky) and Fox Searchlight disputed Lane's claim. They released statements that stated: "We were fortunate to have Sarah there to cover the more complicated dance sequences and we have nothing but praise for the hard work she did. However, Natalie herself did most of the dancing.. "

I believe the controversy was at least partially deliberate. Obviously Aronofsky is a fan of Kubrick and has used many of his techniques to encode subliminal information into the film - and Kubrick was known to include advertising and even a documentary into his subliminals. Not only that, but Rob Ager, the premiere analyst of Kubrick's techniques, has pointed out that Kubrick included scenes in the Shining documentary (shot by Kubrick's daughter) of himself driving Shelley Duvall until she broke down into a teary heap to reinforce the idea of her as an abused woman and himself as the aggressor. You'd need to dig into Rob's massive and amazing analysis of The Shining to see what I mean - it would take a lot of explaining and this isn't the place for it, but suffice to say, it seems Aronofsky has taken a page from Kubrick's notebook and done the same here, making the themes of the film actually bleed out into the reality surrounding the production in the form of partially contrived controversy.

What a perfect move - controversy over Natalie Portman and her "dance double" (real life doppelganger), as if they're at each other's throats about it! Exactly like Nina and Lily in the movie - it's as if now the world of the movie is spilling over into reality exactly the way the world of the Swan Lake ballet spilled over into the fictional lives of its characters… endless regression baby!

In the featurettes it's demonstrated that Natalie Portman's face was digitally superimposed over the dance double's - creating exactly the same effect used several times in the film when Nina sees other women with her own face. Uncanny how perfectly this all fits.

“I don’t want there to be any boundaries between us.”
These were Thomas’ words to Nina in his living room just before he told her he wants her to go home and masturbate. This is a very important line, because sexual boundary violations are a key theme in the film. Here's a little blurb explaining basically what it means:

"Boundary violations can be either external or internal. External boundary violations have to do with physical space like standing too close, unwelcome touching or behaving in too familiar a way.  When someone grabs food off your plate without asking it may be a violation of your external boundaries.
Internal boundary violations include things like taking responsibility for someone else’s thoughts, feelings or behavior.  When someone assumes that they know how you think, feel  or what you should do they are violating your internal boundaries."

Nina gets her boundaries violated a lot in this film, by her mother, by Thomas, and by a random old pervert on the subway. It's because she's been trapped in a codependent relationship with her mother and hasn't been able to establish clear boundaries - which is a necessary part of growing up. Someone who's been deprived of healthy boundaries is confused and often can't tell what is or isn't appropriate behavior - she learns to accept horrible behavior that makes her feel awful and to make excuses for it. This is a sort of self-imposed naivete that then makes her vulnerable to predatory behavior from others and in fact draws their attention. Sexual predators can tell immediately if someone has healthy boundaries or not, and as predators tend to do, they like to attack the stragglers on the outskirts of the herd who can't protect themselves.

Listing of long-term effects to patients victimized by sexual boundary violations:

  • Emotional turmoil 
  • Shame, fear or rage 
  • Guilt and self-blame 
  • Isolation and emptiness 
  • Cognitive distortion 
  • Identity confusion 
  • Emotional liability 
  • Sexual dysfunction 
  • Mistrust of authority, paranoia 
  • Depression 
  • Self-harm 
  • Suicide 

This list could serve as a character bio for Nina! Only rage seems not to fit, unless of course it's suppressed rage, in which case it actually fits perfectly - after all, what is the self destructive power of the Black Swan that overtakes Nina other than repressed rage directed inward against herself? 

Her mother forcefully strips her clothes off, and it's obviously something she does habitually - this is not a healthy respect for an adult's sexual boundaries. She claims to be doing it for Nina's own good, to check if she's been scratching, but it becomes clear she also does it as punishment when Nina says something she doesn't like.

This film brings up a very important issue that society doesn't like to accept - child abuse by mothers. Abuse isn't always physical or violent, it can be very subtle and emotional instead, and in some ways that kind is worse because the injuries are invisible and victims often can't turn to anyone - people generally turn a blind eye to this kind of familial abuse and will instead shame the victims, which only makes things worse for them.

Beth also fits the profile as a victim of sexual boundary violations, but with a much stronger emphasis on rage and self destruction. In some ways the mirror opposite of Nina, the sweet naive innocent, but in many ways the same. 

And finally, this article shed a lot of light on the individuation/transcendence theme:

The Individuation Process
The Shadow
“The first step is taken towards self-realization {individuation} when you meet your 'shadow'. This is so called because it is the 'dark' side of your psyche, the parts of yourself that you have not previously brought into the light of consciousness. It is, for this reason, the 'primitive' (undeveloped or underdeveloped) side of your personality. It is also the 'negative' side of your personality, insofar as it is the opposite of whatever you have hitherto regarded as making a positive contribution to your well being. 
In dreams your shadow may be represented either by some figure of the same sex as yourself (an elder brother or sister, your best friend, or some alien or primitive person) or by a person who represents your opposite (and of the same sex). A clear example of this in literature is Robert Louis Stevenson's 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde', in which Mr Hyde may be seen as Dr Jekyll's unconscious shadow, leading a separate and altogether different life from the conscious part of the personality. The werewolf motif features in the same way in literature (e.g. Hermann Hesse's 'Steppenwolf') and in folklore. 
Your shadow, because it is your dark side, may be quite frightening, and you may even see it as something evil. You may therefore want to disown it; and one way of doing this is to make believe it is the property of someone else. On a collective level this is what leads to racism and the persecution of 'non-believers' (which in this context means people whose beliefs are different from our own). These are both examples of the 'them-and-us' syndrome, where we unload our 'dark' side on to some other group, which then becomes the scapegoat that carries the blame for everything that is wrong in our lives or our society. Commenting on Jesus's command to 'Love your enemy', Jung remarks: 'But what if I should discover that that very enemy himself is within me, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved - what then?' The answer is that you must learn to integrate the dark side of yourself, which means accepting it and allowing it proper expression under the control of your conscious mind. It will then cease to be dark and terrifying and hostile; instead, it will enhance the quality of your life, advance your personal development and increase your happiness.” -

Ok, I feel like I've covered the background info enough, time to move on to the film itself:

Thomas as Omniscient Narrator
The character of Thomas Leroy knows more than anyone else in the film - he has an uncanny understanding of what's happening in the movie universe and even beyond it, in the production of the film itself. He frequently says things that are intended to cue the audience in to what's going on in the subsurface narrative, at the symbolic level. 

For instance, one of his important lines is this: 

"Swan Lake. Done to death I know, but we're going to strip it down, make it visceral and real." 

With a strong emphasis on the last word. He's speaking on 2 different levels here - not only as a character in the film but directly to the audience - as if he is Aronofsky. What he's saying he wants to do with the ballet Swan Lake is exactly what Aronofsky did with the film Black Swan - he quite literally stripped the original ballet down - he didn't show the whole thing, only a few key scenes from it, and he most definitely made it both visceral and real. Let's consult the Oxford online dictionary again:

of or relating to the viscera:

"the visceral nervous system"

relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect: "the voters' visceral fear of change"

synonyms: instinctive · instinctual · gut · deep-down
· deep-seated · deep-rooted · inward · emotional · animal 

And here's the definition for Viscera:

the internal organs in the main cavities of the body, especially those in the abdomen, e.g., the intestines.

The way the term visceral is often used in relation to movies, it means the director wants to affect the audience in a very powerful physical way, literally like a punch to the gut. Certain directors, especially in modern Hollywood, get tagged as visceral filmmakers, like David Lynch, Paul Verhoeven, Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone, David Fincher, David Cronenberg, and of course Aronofsky himself. Several of these directors have films that are included in the list of influences for Black Swan. Aronofsky was tapping into a lineage of modern films like Fight Club, Mulholland Drive, The Fly, American Werewolf in London, and Carrie, which are known to go over the top with violence and excruciating pain to get a powerful reaction from the viewer. So it seems Thomas is supposed to be sort of an Aronofsky of the ballet world. Possibly he's even intended to represent the director himself, speaking directly to the audience, to help push the idea of the film world spilling over into the reality of the production. 

So how did Aronofky make Black Swan visceral? In the same way the other films I've listed are visceral - by making the audience feel what's happening - by making Nina's transformation for instance seem excruciatingly painful and accompanying it with a powerful sound track using loud, low pitched sounds that carry right through into the viewer's body. And he quite literally made it visceral , in the sense of intestinal - the coup de grace is Nina's fatal gut wound! I don't know if he intended that, possibly as a little in joke, he seems to have included several similar ones, so I don't doubt he was aware of what he was doing.

So much for making it visceral - as for making it real, well, This line seems to be referring to the way the events of Swan Lake spill over into the lives of the characters. He quite literally made it real for them, and to an extent for the audience as well, by making Thomas seem to represent Aronofsky. And since one of the themes of the film is that the ballet bleeds over into their lives, this is one more form of infinite reflection or infinite regress - the film becomes completely meta by referring to it's own production.

It might also have bled through into the reality of Natalie Portman and Aronofsky himself if the rumors are to be believed. Natalie became pregnant during the production, and while the baby is officially that of the film's choreographer Benjamin Millepied, persistent rumors continue to assert that it's actually Aronofsky's. That one is just too weird to wrap my head around. Is it possible Aronofsky decided to start the rumors to further induce the idea of the film's themes spilling out into reality? Hard to believe - that rumor could wreak havok on both of their careers and personal lives. Did it actually happen? Possibly, who knows? If so then it's a really bizarre coincidence that boggles the mind. An infinite regress or life imitating art imitating life etc. Not sure what to make of this one, just gonna let it go. 

Aronofsky has been criticized heatedly for making so many things completely literal in the film, like Nina actually transforming into a swan. He even says in one of the featurettes that he suddenly realized at one point he was making a "wereswan movie"! This is another way he 'makes it real'. So there's a lot packed into Thomas' seemingly innocent line. 

Pay attention to his lines, think about them in this way, and he really helps clarify some things. His brief synapsis of Swan Lake is also a synopsis of the events taking place in Nina's life:

"We all know the story - virginal girl pure and sweet - trapped in the body of a swan. She desires freedom- but only true love can break the spell. Her wish is nearly granted in the form of a prince. But before he can declare his love the lustful twin, the black swan, tricks and seduces him. Devastated, the white swan leaps off a cliff, killing herself, and in death finds freedom."

Of course the main reason he says this is simply that most of the modern audience isn't familiar with Swan Lake, so a quick recap was needed. I don't think this line is really intended to present Thomas as any sort of clairvoyant or omniscient narrator, it was just necessary so people would understand that the events of the ballet are happening in reality. Possibly the idea of using him in that way arose from this line though, since it does make it seem like he has a sort of preternatural knowledge. 

Here's a line that gives further insight in a subtle and rather humorous way:

"All the soloists I tapped - go to your scheduled rehearsals this afternoon. And the girls I didn't tap, meet me in the principle studio at 5."

It would be more clear if he said "And the girls I haven't tapped yet... "

The line is intended to be understood that way, since both Nina and Lily remain untapped at this point, at least by him. After all, one of the main themes of the movie is that he uses the dance troupe as his own personal harem.

And in a later scene, when Nina tells him the reason she dances with such control and doesn't let loose is because she wants to be perfect, he says "Being perfect isn't just about control, it's also about letting go! Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence."

Transcendence is one of the major themes of the film, and exactly what Nina needs. In order to let herself go in her dancing she needs to incorporate elements that at first seem alien and frightening to her - sexuality and power, and thus achieve transcendence in the jungian sense.

Thomas isn't the only omniscient character. Lily has some prophetic lines herself. For one, when she goes to visit Nina, just before they go to the bar, when Nina's mom keeps trying to make Nina come back in the apartment, Lily several times says "Jesus!" while looking right at Nina. It's like she's calling her Jesus. As I mentioned in the introduction, there's a lot of Christ symbolism.

And after the scene where Nina stabs 'Lily' with a mirror shard, the real Lily knocks on her dressing room door to congratulate her on dancing so well, and says "You really blew me away!" She could have said "you really killed me" but that would be too obvious. 

"Trapped in the body of a swan"
This is from Thomas' synapsis of Swan Lake, quoted in full in the previous section, and it's another example of Aronofsky doing things quite literally in the film. He actually had Nina transform into a swan!! Or so it seems at first. I've seen angry diatribes online - people who couldn't believe how stupid it was. But she never actually did of course - it was only a hallucination, like many other elements of the film. Aronofsky uses some pretty subtle and sophisticated techniques that today's mass audience, raised on simple Hollywood blockbusters, aren't familiar with - like unannounced hallucination sequences.

Unannounced in this context means it isn't explicitly spelled out that the scenes aren't real. They're presented as if they are, because they represent the character's point of view, and while a person is dreaming or hallucinating the experience seems absolutely real. Unsophisticated audiences expect when there's a dream sequence to see the character go to sleep or wake up from it, or get conked on the head before a hallucination. In Black Swan you have to work a bit to determine what is and isn't real. That's actually a big part of the film's appeal - but it does make it a bit challenging.

These touches of sophistication are one of the things I love about Black Swan. The editing for instance - there's frequent use of jump cuts like the kind used in French New Wave films of the 50's and 60's. These techniques made their way to Hollywood and became fairly common for a time, until the Blockbuster mentality came along and that kind of sophisticated filmmaking mostly fell by the wayside except in foreign and independent films.

The 'were-swan' scenes are a reference to John Landis' American Werewolf in London, the first werewolf movie to show a transformation in bright light and motion, not using a series of static dissolves with a little more hair glued on each time as the previous ones did.

Also, more obliquely, it's a reference to Roman Polanski's Repulsion, in which the protagonist suffers a mental breakdown. Polanski used the brilliant device of literally showing the walls cracking around her as she 'cracked' - unannounced hallucinations that draw the viewer in, as if you're experiencing them yourself. It works quite well, because for a moment the viewer is confused and disoriented, in the same mental state as the protagonist. This is another way Aronofsky makes it real for us the viewers, by making us experience the same hallucinations Nina does. Repulsion also used jump cuts, so when he uses them in Black Swan he's deliberately linking to it.

Trees, flowers, vines, eggs, castle walls - the entire mise-en-scene subtly and subliminally represents the forest of Swan Lake spilling over into the lives of the characters. Note in the closing credits every actor has 2 names listed for characters they played - one is the character in the movie Black Swan, the other is the role they portrayed from the Swan Lake ballet - and this is true not only for the dancers who we actually see dancing the ballet, but for Erica and Thomas and others as well - this is a clear indication that we're meant to understand this spilling-over effect and to take it almost literally - or at least to think about it symbolically.

The biggest clue that this was done purposefully is a brief statement made by production designer Therese Deprez in one of the featurettes. She said she designed all the sets using only black white pink and green, and that elements of the stage decor were subtly employed in every set. These 2 statements cued me in to freeze-frame each time there was a good view of a set and take inventory of what's visible there, which led to many of the discoveries I made concerning the subliminal elements.

Color Coding & Symbolism
Almost everything in Nina's bedroom is pink or white, with the notable exception of a green egg-shaped chair where her mother sits watching her in hawklike fashion as Nina sleeps. Under the cushion of this chair is also where Erica hides the doorknob when she wants to keep Nina from leaving the apartment. And she sits on top of it - for all the world like a hen hatching an egg! Egg symbolism is important in the film, and is always related to Erica - because Erica keeps reminding Nina that it was due to the pregnancy resulting in her birth that Erica's career as a dancer was cut tragically short. This means that Erica's pregnancy is in a very real sense the incident that set in motion the events we're witnessing now that affect Nina's life profoundly - and it's something that happened before she was even born!! So egg symbolism represents Erica's pregnancy, and by association, the guilt trip she lays continually on her daughter because of it. This green egg-shaped chair is a very important symbol - in a movie where all the women have been transformed into swans in the prologue, it's the nest where Erica sits and broods over her daughter - often while she sleeps. Erica sitting on her egg in Nina's bedroom symbolically represents the fact that she hasn't allowed Nina to 'hatch' or to grow up into a healthy adult. 

That's not the only egg symbolism associated with Erica. She gives Nina an egg and a pink grapefruit for breakfast in an early scene in the film. Already the color coding is being introduced - we've seen a black and white dream sequence followed by Nina waking in a pink and white little girl's room to be fed a pink grapefruit. And what are the spoken words in this scene? "Look how pink so pretty! Preeeetty!" -  again reinforcing the controlling relationship in which Nina is treated as a child. It's clear this is something they've been saying since Nina was very young, and it verbally draws attention to the use of the color pink.

The color pink has been used in the film to represent immaturity or more specifically forced infantilism. Only Nina and Beth wear pink or have it displayed in their rooms. It's clear that although Nina is a young woman she is treated like a child by her mother, and while we don't see enough of Beth's life to know, we can infer from a lot of symbols that the same is true for her. I'll go into this more a bit later. 

Psycho mom
Erica sleeping in green nest-chair during Nina’s 1st masturbation attempt - the positioning of her hand and the long triangular edge of the afghan under her makes it look like she's holding a butcher knife, and there's a sudden loud burst of music/sound and 2 or 3 rapid jump cuts moving away - all of which is an evocation of the shower scene in Psycho. Erica may or may not have actually been there in this scene - it could be one of Nina’s hallucinations.

Erica's apartment
Erica's apartment is green, except for Nina's bedroom. One wall of Erica's bedroom is covered by the childishly done paintings of Nina (or are they self portraits? Who can tell, in a movie where all the female dancers look so similar?) Green of course represents her envy of Nina's career. Erica's ballet career was cut short because of the pregnancy, so she put all her ambitions on her daughter, essentially forcing her into a life of ballet and pushing her every step of the way so Erica can live vicariously through her. This is a precarious situation, because while she's proud of her daughter's success, she also becomes jealous when that success begins to surpass her own.
Flower imagery is an important symbol to pay attention to throughout the film. When flowers or prints, paintings, or stickers of them are shown in a character's personal space it represents the state of the characters career, though in Erica's case it might also represent her fruitfulness - the fact that she gave birth to Nina. Nina's bedsheets are printed with flowers and curling vines (another important motif in Erica's apartment that I'll explain in a minute) and she has a red flower standing beside her full length mirror. In contrast, only a few images of flowers are visible in the rest of  Erica's apartment, but it's filled with imagery of vines, generally growing in vertical stripes up the wallpaper. In a later section I'll go into more detail about what the vines represent, but whats important at this stage is the abundance of vines with the comparative lack of flowers. Nina's career is blossoming, as her mom's never did. And the dried flowers hanging on the walls in Beth's  dressing room represent the wilted and dead state of her career. It's as if Nina, Beth and Erica represent three different possible stages in the career arc of a ballerina.

Butterflies are free
The only place we see a butterfly theme is on Nina's wallpaper and 2 frames in the strobelight sequence. Butterflies represent freedom, metamorphosis & beauty - lightness of spirit. Does this motif mean that at the end she ("needs love to break the spell") finds self-love at last (which is exactly what's needed to break the evil spell of a controlling and abusive mother) and frees herself? You bet it does! That will be covered extensively later.

You're in the Jungle baby!
Thomas' office - all black & white - there's a swan skeleton prop and a weird bit of abstract-art style decoration that has a decidedly vertebral look. There's a section of it sitting on the window sill and another section standing against the wall. Big Picasso-like drawing or painting - black and white in stark contrasts with distorted figures writhing across its surface. That part can't bee seen in the above shot. The walls are grey concrete block like the rest of the backstage area, representing the castle walls from Swan Lake. They're grey, which counts as a variation of black and white - no green for envy here and no pink for enforced infantilism/sexual repression. Thomas is entirely a creature of black and white contrasts. He's the dedicated and inspired ballet director, which is his Prince Seigfreid half, but he's also the sexual predator Von Rothbart. Aronofsky does an admirable job of not making his characters two dimensional - nobody is strictly a villain or a hero, but include elements of both blended inseparably. In this regard at least the film is extremely realistic.

This is the scene where Nina has put on Beth's stolen lipstick and was apparently going to try to seduce Thomas into letting her have the Swan Queen role, but she chickened out. I believe the swan skeleton and the vertebral sculpture is a reference to backbone, which she lacks at this point.

Thomas makes another of his omniscient statements in this scene: "The truth is - when I look at you, all I see is the white swan. Yes you're beautiful, fearful, fragile - ideal casting." It's as if he's referring directly to the casting of Natalie Portman in her role. I haven't seen all of her films, but in the ones I have seen, she seems to be always in white swan mode. 

Thomas' living room - there are trees - I can't tell if they're real or artificial. A big black and white painting of birds sitting in a tree that's mirrored vertically.

There's also an abstract tree design on the wall that has a threatening, clutching look, seen behind Nina as if the tree is reaching around her. We're in the forest of Swan Lake, in the presence of Prince Siegfried, and he's still making his selection for his swan queen. 

Birdcage symbolism
This is the image that first brought birdcage symbolism to my attention. A pair of empty birdcages sitting in the living room. No, that's not quite right actually - they're joined, not 2 separate ones. And one is visually right behind Erica. To borrow Lily's words from another scene: "One for you, one for me." Both Nina and Erica are trapped in this spell.

Once I started seeing the cage symbolism I noticed it everywhere - Nina seems to exist entirely inside a maze of bars and fences. A very claustrophobic film - she’s almost always in rooms or corridors, except for a few brief moments when she emerges into the outdoors - except that it isn’t really. It’s actually a big plaza surrounded by a circle of buildings that have giant bars (big columns) running up the front walls. Behind the columns is even another layer of cage symbolism.

See the radiating pattern of lines on the ground - it makes the entire enclosure feel circular, and if viewed from above it would give the impression of the top of a birdcage. It almost feels like they're sitting on a perch, doesn't it? In this scene Thomas' hawklike profile is clearly showcased as well:
A predatory bird - another example of ideal casting! He's the spitting image of Von Rothbart's prosthetic makeup.

This viewpoint clearly makes the railing of the stairwell look cagelike:

 The cage theme is also repeated in the entryway to the building housing the dance studio:

 and on the repeated posters of Beth:
These posters are also seen in Beth's dressing room - indicating that she is also trapped in an endless birdcage just like Nina is. There's a lot more cage symbolism in the film - I encourage you to see how much you can spot. 

Castle Walls
In another example of Swan Lake spilling over into Nina's reality, the stone walls of the castle show up in some of the actual locations in the film. Below is the castle set from the ballet.

Here's the bar where Lily shows Nina what a social life can be like:

And in keeping with the cage symbolism the corridors of the dance studio look like a prison, as well as resembling the castle set:

The Lake
I believe we're supposed to be beside the lake, where a party with lots of drinking and dancing took place in the ballet. Possibly the stone walls mean the castle is right on the shore of the lake, not sure on that one. The big TV screen behind them is showing only water. It doesn't seem to be a movie or anything, just an endlessly  rippling water surface. There's a lot of lighting that's coming upwards onto the stone walls, like it's reflecting up onto them.

Behind Nina you can also see a big sheet of rippled glass that resembles the surface of a lake. 

When Thomas says "But which of you can embody both swans, the white and the black?" his face is shown in a split mirror. 
This denotes his split nature - Rothbart and Prince Siegfried are his black and white halves.

In this mirror shot Nina and Lily seem to be one person at first, then go their separate ways.

A freeze frame from the strobe light dance number showing Nina splitting. There are many of these interspersed in that sequence.

A really powerful statement - here all the identical dancers emerge from Nina's head. 

They represent the plethora of unreal characters existing in Nina's world as her psychosis and paranoia worsen. It's never clear to her at this point when she's seeing a real person or some spectral image projected by her disturbed psyche onto someone.

Erica's first actual appearance in the film is quite noteworthy in terms of symbolism:
First she's just a dark shape that blots everything out for a moment, while Nina is in a very submissive bowing posture with her legs spread wide open. She's very sexually vulnerable, in fact in nearly the same pose as the music box dancer figurine will be shortly, which itself is symbolic of her sexual vulnerability to predators (this will be explained a little farther down). Erica  sweeps in silently from the exposed side and immediately after her passing Nina sits down with her legs crossed, as if she's been injured sexually.  This is some extremely powerful and suggestive symbolism that Freud could write entire books about. Erica then appears in a mirror reflected in another mirror, splitting into two versions of herself - and now on the other side of Nina as if her presence is everywhere throughout the house. We're seeing all this framed through a doorway that resembles cage bars. So our first introduction to Erica makes her a spectral figure haunting the house, existing only as shadow forms and reflections in the background. She appears pitch black and gigantic compared to Nina in the shot. In movies and in dreams, the house a person lives in often represents their life, and that's definitely true for this shot - Erica's overwhelming presence is felt all throughout Nina's life - it has shaped her in ways she doesn't even understand yet. In that sense she's always there, haunting the background of Nina's life.

Thomas' first appearance is similar - first he's seen as a dark spectral shape passing in front of the camera, and very shortly after that we get his splitting in the mirror shot. But he doesn't blot out the whole scene momentarily like Erica does here - Erica is the primary abuser that renders Nina vulnerable to other predators like Thomas.

This spectral haunting theme is taken from the ballet - I've seen filmed versions where Von Rothbart makes his entrance in a costume that blends into the background, and he silently darts and creeps around on the outskirts of the stage in menacing poses.

Infinitely repeating reflections

The whole movie is a funhouse maze of mirrors, of infinite reflections and images that resemble them like Erica's many paintings and the hall of the giant statue with its repeating arches, each flanked by identical columns. What's the meaning behind it all?

For one, the endless reflections represent the infinite numbers of dancers being consumed by the industry. Note how similar all the women look, and at one point one of the guys Lily picks up in the bar even says, when he discovers they're ballet dancers "No wonder you look alike." This after asking if they're sisters. The institution of professional ballet has been criticized in the past because none of the young hopefuls even have a chance unless they have the right genetics. Like supermodels their proportioning, build and beauty are the important factors, however talented they may be. How many girls make it through years of practice and dreams of dancing before a huge audience one day, only to hit puberty and develop a body type that rules that out?

And finally infinite reflections are the perfect metaphor for Nina's splinter personalities.

It also serves as a metaphor for her identity confusion as a symptom of boundary violations - this is why she keeps seeing dopplegangers with her own face, or cant' tell who people are when she first sees them.

The infinitely repeated Crotch Grab
How many crotch grabs are in this movie? Quite a few - and yet I firmly believe they’re all repetitions of the first one, in Thomas’ office when he says “That was me seducing you - it needs to be the other way around.” 

It was most likely Nina's first sexual contact with a man, and it made a huge impact on her - so big that she re-imagined it many times afterwards. In fact almost every sexual act is another repetition of it - including each of her own attempts at masturbation and Lily's imaginary crotch grab in the taxi. A couple of clues in that scene - their positions completely mirror each other, heads both laid back against the seat (Nina would be able to see her own reflection in the car window when she looked toward where she imagined Lily being):
This is a paste-up made from 2 different shots - you never see both of them in the same shot when they're in the car except in the closeups of their hands.

And even then you only ever see Nina's left and Lily's right.

There's a brief shot from outside the window of the cab (a shot from outside is intended to show the objective viewpoint, free of her hallucinations) where you can clearly see there's no-one in the back seat with her. This shot has been lightened to make it easier to see. So in reality it was Nina trying once again to masturbate, and once again she stopped, pulling her right hand away with her left. Her 2 sides in opposition.

She wasn't able to complete the act until she was rolling on ecstasy and imagined being with Lily in her bed. And since Lily wasn't actually there either, it was one more crotch grab. I did say infinite, didn't I? 

It wasn't only the crotch grab that set her fantasy life spinning, but also Thomas' sudden forced kiss. That also makes several repeat appearances. For one in the imaginary sex scene with Lily in Nina's bedroom - Nina advances on Lily and takes her head forcibly and kisses her passionately in imitation of that original kiss. Then after successfully dancing the Black Swan onstage Nina finds Thomas and returns the kiss, taking him by surprise with her newfound sexual power and boldness, and leaving him grinning like a schoolboy and proud as a peacock. All of this is another form of infinite repetition just like the mirror motifs.

Was the old perv really 
perving on the Train?
He might not have actually been making obscene gestures. Nina might have imagined it because she felt guilty over her recent masturbation attempts. I'm sure he was really there - she usually projects her guilt or fear onto an actual person, but did he actually leer at her and make that obscene gesture? Which qualifies as another crotch grab by the way. And if it wasn't actually him doing it but Nina imagining it, then it would be another repetition of that seminal one in Thomas' office, her stoked-up imagination at it once again, replaying the most powerful experience she's had in a long time. Being so sexually repressed it's easy to imagine she feels excessive guilt over even trying to masturbate, and probably any time somebody laughed nearby or looked at her she imagined they knew. Keep in mind, she was looking across the train at him, and behind him was a window with her reflection visible. We've already seen her looking at her own reflection in the train windows several times (that's how she first saw Lily), and remember she was looking up at her own reflection in the tub when she saw her evil twin and ruined that masturbation attempt, so it all fits quite nicely. Possibly the old guy was just smiling at her and maybe his hand was trembling uncontrollably.

But here's the beauty of a scene like this, and so many more in the film. As in a dream, a symbol doesn't just have a single definite meaning - it can take on a whole menagerie of them, and represent all of them at once even if some of them seem contradictory. When we think about things consciously we use a reductive analytical type of thinking, but the unconscious doesn't work like that - it synthesizes thoughts, which is creative and additive. Aronofsky has the ability to make symbols in his films work that way. So people may want to know 'was he really doing it or did she imagine it?', but it doesn't matter. Both possibilities are suggested, and symbolically both must be taken into consideration. So it makes a statement about her vulnerability to sexual predation and her passivity in the face of it, but at the same time it also suggests her overactive imagination creating scenarios based on her guilt complex.

The Statue
"The statue is a 1999 work by artist Fritz Scholder entitled Future Clone… you can see it on the ground floor of the National Museum of the American Indian at  Bowling Green." - quote taken from this blog:
Now we come to the giant statue - framed in a nested succession of arches both in front and behind (which closely resembles an endless regression of mirror reflections). 

This is the scene where Beth's retirement is announced and Nina steps up to take her place as prima ballerina and also as Thomas' new sexual conquest. This is the central scene in the film in many ways, and this monstrously deformed figure is the symbolic centerpiece - representing both Nina and Beth and all the dancers like them who suffer for their art. It's important that here, before this terrifying spectral figure, is where Nina and Beth confront each other - here at the nexus point between endless reflections, dominated by the towering, disfigured and faceless colossus. In this charged space the naive newcomer and the bitter departing diva represent each other's future and past - reflections in that endless regression of imaginary mirrors. Some time ago Beth was where Nina is now, and soon Nina will follow in Beth's tragic footsteps. But it goes beyond just the 2 of them - and this is why the arches of the huge corridor resemble the endless mirrors motif - how many others have been there before, and how many more will follow? Aronofsky's message (one of them) is that professional ballet - and by extension all media-related industries that attract pretty young hopefuls filled with dreams and crush them mercilessly - are like meat grinders endlessly chewing them up and spitting them out - ruining lives and dreams in endless succession. What we're seeing in the film is only the passing of the torch from Beth to Nina. 

So this monstrous faceless armless sexless statue is the very representation of the inhuman grinding force itself that destroys the lives of dancers. Note it has a white face and wings in place of arms, just as Nina does when she's dancing the black swan at the end.

Music box dancer
A child's toy, wound up by her mother & dances the same routine every time - metaphor for Nina herself. The upright mirrors forming a wall behind the dancer replicate the trio of upright mirrors in the living room that were probably installed about the same time Erica bought the music box. Nina knocks it off the dresser when she's fed up with her mom & her enforced childishness & next time we see it (doubtless picked up & replaced on the dresser by Erica) the spinning dancer is broken into an abstract shape that at first I took for some kind of sculpture of a swan's head wearing a hat as it spins in extreme closeup. But it's actually what's left of the music box dancer - just the one upright leg and the pelvis, with only stumps left of the other leg and the torso:

 Figuratively Nina has been reduced to nothing but a pelvis spinning on one leg, with the stump of the other leg spread wide in a very suggestive pose. The destruction of the figurine - done in a fit of rage by Nina herself - represents the destruction of her psyche by this very intrusive and controlling behavior on the part of her mother. It also represents the literal bodily self-destruction Nina is inflicting on herself in the form of bulimia and scratching as well as the destructive toll a lifetime of ballet practice takes on the legs and feet of dedicated dancers. But I see even one more meaning embedded in this already amazingly rich metaphorical image - she's been reduced to nothing but a leg to dance on and sexual organs spread wide open and revolving for all the world to see - this is a metaphor for Nina's naive vulnerability to sexual predators such as Thomas and the old pervert on the train. 

The devastation of this small figurine is a furthering of the erosion of the big sculpture in the auditorium. That one seems to have originally been male, but the sexual organs have been eroded away along with the face and the arms, replaced by tiny wings far too small to lift this massive heavy body.

Living room is a life-sized music box
Upright vine motif in living room is a visual representation of cage bars, effectively making the room a larger version of the birdcages seen behind Erica. Living room is a bower Erica made to contain Nina. 
Note green wallpaper with vine motif. What is a room but a box? There’s a piano, for making music, and a wall of mirrors for her to dance in front of. In this scene there are several shots emphasizing Nina spinning on her pointed toe just as in another scene the musicbox dancer is shown doing the same. The move she's practicing here is called a fouette and is the signature move of the black swan character Odille. It's very technical and difficult, requiring a very skilled dancer to perform it. It's while she's attempting this move that she first injures herself. Bits of cage symbolism can be seen in the living room decor.

The music box has green walls with a vine motif, vertical mirrors, makes music, and has a tiny dancer figure spinning in front of the mirrors. Also note next to it another dancer figure trapped inside a glass bell shaped like a birdcage, also with a vine motif around the base of it. These are both symbolic representations of Nina. 

And here we have a gigantic music box with dozens of dancers. Cage and forest symbolism.

Genital self-mutilation 
Bathtub scene - Nina submerges under water (into the unconscious), masturbating, blood drips into water, and her hand comes up bloody and with what appear to be shreds of skin under the fingernails.

Could her bloody hand represent menstruation? It's a possibility - menstruation is an indication of womanhood and a sign that, physically at least, Nina is mature and should no longer be subject to her mother's control. This scene ties in with Carrie, much of which was built around menstruation (the bucket of pig's blood was a reference to it). Certainly Barbara Hershey practically channels Carrie's mother, minus the religious fanaticism and a drawerful of cutlery. Carrie was also about a girl on the cusp of womanhood who must go through terrible mental turmoil because her controlling mother refuses to let her grow naturally and become a woman, and as a result discovers a weird dark power welling up inside that makes her monstrous. Very similar to Black Swan.

The blood could indicate that she was ‘scratching’ her genitals. Makes sense - after all sexuality is a big part of the pressure she’s experiencing, so like a victim of body dysmorphic disorder she was tying to destroy the offending part of herself. It’s another repetition of Thomas’ crotch grab, this time combined with her self-destructive scratching. It was her second attempt at masturbation and, like the first, was brought to a shocking halt before completion by another of her terrifying hallucinations. She just can't seem to let herself go, can she? 

It might also mean that she broke her own hymen, which would tie in nicely with all the bleeding vaginal symbolism elsewhere in the film. 

Note that Nina is underwater when the scratching occurs. A body of water frequently represents the unconscious. And the surface of it, seen from above or below, is like a mirror, another important symbol. So she's immersed in her own subconscious and looking into a mirror when her evil doppelganger appears over her. It's her evil inner reflection, the black swan in her. Incidentally, and I don't know what to make of this, but it's in the same position over her that Thomas will take at the end when she's dying. Could be a coincidence. Or maybe the tub is somehow linked to her bed and the mattress she dies on? I have no idea at this point.

The pink glove
Outside Beth's dressing room is a bulletin board that has a bunch of flowers hanging on it and curiously a single pink glove. 

I noticed this glove in the Metamorphosis feature - we see 2 different takes of this scene outside Beth's dressing room. Interestingly, in the 1st take the glove is there but is hanging in a haphazard shape and you can't tell what it is, but in the 2nd take it's been repositioned and now it's clearly a glove. This implies that Aronofsky had it changed between takes. Why would he do this? He wanted to make sure it reads clearly as a glove... and that implies it has some definite purpose for being there. 

Note that the socks Erica puts on Nina's hands to stop her from scratching in her sleep are also pink. 

Nina and Beth are connected by nails
Beth destroyed her own face with a nail file (well, Nina’s hallucination of Beth did - but a moment later in the elevator we see Nina drop the nail file, which is covered with blood — did Nina actually stab her while she was sleeping?) 

In the scene where Thomas announces Beth’s retirement and Nina’s ascension as his new prima ballerina there’s a strong emphasis on the hands of Nina and Beth. They're both holding champagne glasses very similarly - there's an extreme closeup on Nina's hand holding hers and then a cut directly to Beth in the audience below holding her glass up rather high so it can be clearly seen. Then a cut back to Nina's hand and this is when we see the reddening and inflammation around her fingernail. Guilt over stealing the nail file? It's when the attention is all on Beth. Nina ducks into the bathroom where she now peels a long painful-looking string of bloody skin from her finger. So in this instance, the first involving her fingernail, it's definitely linked directly to Beth and possibly Nina's envy of her as the star ballerina and object of Thomas' affections. 

This scene made me realize the importance of the nail file and scissors, and even of the scratching. They're all links between Nina and Beth, and therefore related to Beth's 'dark impulse' that Nina appropriates from her. The purpose of a nail file is to smooth the fingernails after clipping them (with scissors) and it's definitely something that a scratcher would have a great need of. 

If in Nina's case the color pink symbolizes forced infantilization by her controlling and abusive mother, does it mean the same thing in Beth's case? I suspect so, even though obviously Beth isn't passive like Nina is (though she may well be just as sexually repressed - which I'll get to later). I believe Aronofsky intends the pink glove to serve the same purpose as the socks Erica put on Nina's hands to stop her from scratching herself. Why is the glove pinned to the bulletin board? My guess would be Beth wore the gloves to keep herself from scratching but discarded them because she gave in to the urge. Somebody found one and pinned it there knowing it belongs to Beth. No telling what happened to its mate - probably Aronofsky very deliberately placed only one there to draw attention to an important prop leading into this subsurface narrative. Though actually there only being one glove fits in with a lot of other related elements - Nina’s hand and foot wounds only affect one side of her body, and we sometimes see her wearing one leg warmer (though I believe that’s common among dancers?) I’ll discuss this idea in more detail a little later. 

Nina's split toenail in the earlier scene is closely related to the bleeding fingernail wound and is another link to Beth in a different way. When Nina visits Beth in the hospital and lifts the sheet to look at her legs, she discovers a horrible gash deep in the flesh of Beth's calf where the broken bone apparently tore through or where surgeons had to cut. There's also a big steel leg brace attached with screws directly through the flesh to Beth's leg bones. All of this serves a dual purpose - or really a triple purpose as I'll demonstrate..

First it represents the long term leg and foot damage suffered by ballet dancers. Second, a shattered leg is a career ender for a ballerina, so a very powerful physical symbol that Beth's career is truly done and she brought it to a (pun intended) crashing halt through her own self destructive nature. This is foreshadowing of the fact that through the dark inner drive she appropriates from Beth, Nina will end her own career also through self-inflicted injury. 

Third, the broken and horribly mangled shin bones link directly to Nina's leg-breaking scene. It's immediately after her final visit to Beth in the hospital, to return the stolen items,  that Nina has a hallucination in which her shin bones break one after the other, making her legs resemble those of a swan. Nina forsees herself going down the same self-destructive path Beth has gone down before her - she's appropriated Beth's dark inner drive by stealing her things and by moving in to her dressing room and taking her place as the prima ballerina of the company, and now she's realized that the same pressures that drove Beth to a suicide attempt are coming to bear irresistibly on her, and she's afraid the same fate awaits her, so she hallucinates her legs breaking similarly to Beth's. It's a perfect visual metaphor, as well as a visceral representation of her psyche disintegrating another stage.

Am I getting too into this, or does that second to last image look very vaginal and horribly damaged and also stitched shut, all at the same time? Reminds me of Videodrome and Crash and a few other Cronenberg body horror flicks.

“Did you suck his cock?"
At first I wasn't sure about this one, but more symbolism keeps turning up around it.
Behind her reflection is the roaring darkness that's engulfing her because she can't handle the sexuality and aggression she's trying to engender for the role. She's applying Beth's stolen lipstick in quite a suggestive manner while preparing to convince Thomas that she can dance the black swan. 

Next shot:
Nina is rubbing her lips with a mix of trepidation and sensuality, the darkness still surrounding her. Then it's into Thomas' office to try to get the job. Note when he forcibly kisses her he keeps saying "open your mouth" until she finally does, and presumably he sticks his tongue inside. Not exactly blowjob symbolism, but it does connect up with Erica sticking her finger in Nina's mouth 2 pictures down.

And later we see Beth repeatedly jam the nail file in and out of her cheek, in a blatant representation of a bloody blowjob. Another perfect movie metaphor - ritual self mutilation of a sexual nature, possibly a re-enactment of the shameful act she performed to achieve stardom, and a direct connection to the underlying theme of young women performing sexual acts in order to rise up in the world of ballet and the greater world of the performing arts. 

That's not Thomas, it's Erica's finger with cake frosting  on it. She tried to make Nina eat some celebratory cake after learning she had got the swan queen role, but Nina obviously is very careful about what she eats, and says her stomach is in knots. Erica throws an angry temper tantrum (with a Psycho knife in her hand) and threatens to throw the cake away, so Nina timidly appeases her and agrees to eat some. You can tell she doesn't want to and is pretty upset about being forced to, which is what makes this a particularly bad boundary violation. Erica immediately puts on a huge smile, dips a finger into the cake, and aggressively thrusts it into Nina's face. It must have felt pretty horrible for Nina to open wide and accept that intrusion, but she did it obediently, because her mother programmed her to throughout her life. I imagine it was probably something like that between Beth and Thomas, only not his finger.

A link between Erica and Thomas has already been established - both of them share Von Rothbart's evil side as a sexual predator, and both appeared the same way in their introductory scenes. This is stretching it a bit, but I believe this is a symbolic representation of that oral act done at a remove so as not to be too blatant. It had to be done by a woman - just think if a man had thrust his finger loaded with white cake frosting into a girl's mouth like that when she obviously didn't want it. That would have been too potent of an image to be subliminal. This is Aronofsky once again putting symbolic elements in with a great deal of subtlety to disguise them. He does that sometimes, and because some of the symbols are so blatant people tend to let the subtle ones pass unnoticed, but absorb them subliminally.

Nina's injuries represent the suffering of Christ. Think about the places she bled from - hands (fingernail) - feet (toenail) - and a puncture wound on the side of her abdomen, which is the one that kills her in the end. No, the hand and foot injuries are not puncture wounds through her palms and the soles of her feet - that would have been entirely too obvious.

Why only one hand and one foot? Well it's another way of not making the christ symbolism too obvious, and it also fits into the duality themes of the film - everybody seems to be half one thing and half something else (Nina is half white swan half black swan - Thomas is half Von Rothbart and half Prince Siegfried for example - Erica is half loving mother and half abuser - Lilly is half friend and half enemy) - so it makes sense that only half of Nina is suffering christ's punishments. 

Another clue - the hand and foot wounds are always via the nails - fingernails and toenails. Is this a clever play on words? Christ's hand and foot wounds were made by nails of course. Coincidence? If so the coincidences are starting to get a bit thick. But there are more clues to this christ symbolism reading.

The scene below immediately follows one where Thomas tells Nina "You're stiff! Stiff like a dead corpse!" Then cut directly to this shot, where she does resemble a corpse.

I don't know if this is standard practice for dancers - but it is a very attention-grabbing scene. And it so happens the hand goes in very near the spot where Nina's fatal wound will be. Similar to the way Doubting Thomas probed Jesus's fatal wound, though in this case beforehand. I think this is all very deliberately embedded subliminal coding put in place by Aronofsky to suggest a transcendence theme - which is also supported by the butterfly wallpaper in Nina's bedroom. What are butterflies but creatures who die as caterpillars only to be reborn beautiful and endowed with the power of flight? They’re often used as symbols of transcendence. 

A moment later in the same scene the therapist also cracks her ankles in a very painful looking manner - relating to the leg and foot damage theme of the film. Also draws attention to the feet - another of Christ's wounds.

In the lezzy wet dream sequence (so named by Lily) at the moment Nina orgasms (probably her first and last) she's laying backwards on the bed with her head down by the footboard. Above her head is a round white shape that closely resembles a halo.

Virginal vaginal orifice, bloody, represents the fatal wound of Christ.

looks like the red flower beside her bedroom mirror (positioned very close to where her fatal wound will be).

and also like the tiny tutu on her bedroom door.

I believe these are all very deliberately invoked vaginal symbols - the blood seeping out into the fresh white gauze, the red flower (incidentally the only red one in the film), the little tutu - from when she was obviously just an infant. Seeing a tutu like that, as if from directly underneath - very voyeuristic, but to also see it welling over with copious amounts of free flowing blood (I mean the white gauze around the wound - they’re all meant to resemble each other). Ties in with the genital self mutilation scene in the bathtub and also menstruation theme that links it to Carrie. All these symbols taken together seem to represent Nina's damaged sexuality, destroyed by her mother's constant boundary violations and forced infantilization. 

An interesting thought concerning the red flower beside Nina's mirror - in Beth's dressing room there's a white flower sticker positioned very similarly:

White, not red, and not a real flower.. could it imply that Beth was a virgin? Frigid maybe? I don't know - hard to reconcile that idea knowing about Thomas' reputation for sexing up his lead dancers. But it would fit in with the rest of the symbolism if I'm reading it right (no guarantee there of course). It could mean she only pleased him orally, which would fit in with her "did you suck his cock" statement and the lipstick link between her and Nina. In fact there are lipstick stains on her mirror in the above shot, as if in her anger she attacked the mirror with it. Why would she do that? It would make sense if she associates lipstick with Thomas and the shameful things she had to do for stardom in his ballet troupe. Hmmm - yeah, this is starting to fall into place.

I believe the white flower sticker does mean Beth was frigid, and here's what leads me to that conclusion:

In the scene where they confront each other before the giant statue Beth tells Nina that Thomas "Always said you were such a frigid Little girl." But Beth also accused Nina of 'sucking his cock' to get the position, and a few entries above I laid out some evidence that this is actually what Beth did. It's not conclusive, but enough to make me feel I might be on the right track - especially when other things begin to click into place. It's very common for someone with a guilty conscience to accuse others of doing what they themselves have done - like Nina imagining the old man masturbating on the train because she felt guilty about it herself. And remember someone also wrote 'WHORE' in red lipstick on the bathroom mirror while Nina was telling her mom on the phone that she got the part - now we know who that was, don't we? Red lipstick is one of the links between Nina and Beth, and during the same conversation in front of the statue Beth also called Nina a whore. So it seems like Beth is indeed projecting onto Nina and accusing her of all the things she herself feels guilty of. After all, projecting your own inner demons onto other people is a major theme of the film, and Nina is to Beth exactly what Lily is to Nina - the dancer chosen to step up and take her place. Nina as much as says this in the hospital when she tells Beth "I'm so sorry - I know how it feels now - she's trying to replace me." And much of the movie involves Nina projecting her shadow elements onto Lily, right? 

Lipstick and Blood
These are both used very symbolically in the film, not meant to be taken entirely at face value. So what do they symbolize exactly? 

We already know color is important. Red shows up in the film in symbolically important ways. Blood, Beth's lipstick, the red flower beside Nina's mirror, and some strong red lighting in the strobelight dance sequence and portions of the ballet are the only instances I've seen of it aside from random and uncontrollable elements like taillights on cars etc, which are not important elements in the film. 

Blood marks the wounded areas on Nina's and Beth's bodies, but the wounding isn't always physical - it's often psychic. but it always relates to the major themes of the film in important ways - Nina's fingernail and toenail wounds denote the Christ symbolism and point to the film's transcendence theme while also marking the areas that tend to suffer horrific damage in professional ballet dancers (the toenail anyway), while her scratching relates to the theme of trying to establish control over her own body to offset the anxieties and pressures she's under. Beth's facial self-wounding relates to the shameful sexual acts she had to perform to rise up as a prima ballerina in Thomas' troupe. I believe this is essentially what the lipstick relates to as well - a visual symbol that her mouth has been sacrificed to Thomas the sexual predator. It's metaphorical blood.  So when Nina puts it on, it marks the fact that she has already decided to sacrifice her mouth to Thomas, just as Beth did. It doesn't matter whether the physical act was performed or not - she has already made the sacrifice by making the decision. 

So I believe the red lipstick stands for sexual psychic bleeding with specific reference to oral acts. It's essentially a visual echo of the blood from Beth's cheek when she stabbed herself with the nail file, in the same way that wine in the Christian sacrament represents the blood of Christ. And that bleeding is similar to the gushing blood from Nina's fatal wound, which becomes powerfully symbolic when all this is taken into consideration. In a sense it's the concentrated psychic pain of all the wounding of all the dancers I've written about throughout this analysis. Which makes Nina a sort of Christ figure to all of them, except that her death can't actually redeem them in any way. (Or can it?)

Other instances of red include her eyes - once when they're bloodshot as she's transforming into the monstrous black swan creature, and then when she's onstage dancing the part but in full control. The blood in her eyes is another symbol of the deep sexual wounding she's been subjected to, but later it's her irises that are red - no blood, no wounding. As for the red strobelight, it appears in a scene where she is able to dance very sensually and freely, embodying for the first time those elements of the black swan that previously felt like alien intrusions, but have now been properly incorporated into her psyche, so it doesn't stand for blood in that scene. But it still denotes the sexuality and power that formerly had been associated with bleeding and wounding. 

The Pink and the Black
Why does Arononfsky give us an extreme closeup on Beth's lipstick? To show that it's black with a pink flower motif. That means it's related to the black swan - sexuality and power - and also to the theme of forced infantilization and sexual repression. In the scene where Nina first takes it from Beth's dressing room Beth is wearing black pants and jacket with a frilly pink scarf visible underneath (is the shirt white like the stripe around the lipstick?): 
You can also see some real pink flowers hanging beside her door, and just out of shot to the right is the pink glove. We know the flowers are meant to be associated with Beth because there are bunches of them hanging upside-down, just like these, in her dressing room.

In the same scene Nina is wearing a pink scarf but no black. 

Dancing Queen
If you single-frame advance through the strobelight dance sequence you can find some really wild imagery. Here are the ones most relevant to this analysis:
Nina dancing with Von Rothbart.

This guy seems to be transforming into a peacock. The Prince I suppose?

The most interesting one of the bunch if you ask me. Nina seems to have her Black Swan wings, but at the same time to also be a butterfly. Her bedroom wallpaper motif is visible behind her. This image supports the idea that when she's dancing the Black Swan number she achieves transcendence (individuation).

Lezzy wet dream and transcendence..

And a big moon. This is what Nina (and Lily, as her hallucinatory friend in the scene) are referring to when they tell Erica they've been "to the moon... and back."

Toward the end of this scene there are exposed breasts visible behind her - not hers but another dancer in the club. She appears happy and at ease, demonstrating that sexuality no longer freaks her out.

This is the Black Swan most people haven't seen - each image is only a single frame, intended to be taken in subliminally.

Why is Nina seeing hallucinations?
In Polanski's Repulsion the protagonist suffered severe auditory hallucinations in conjunction with her visual ones, which is a symptom of schizophrenia. This also seems to be what Nina is experiencing in Black Swan - the bursts  of intense heightened sound. But in Repulsion it's shown that the psychosis is caused by childhood sexual abuse, which is actually more in line with dissociative identity disorder. I know catgories and descriptions in the DSM keep changing, and it's quite possible that DID and schizophrenia were considered one and the same in the 60's, and possibly Aronofsky either wanted his film linked thematically to Repulsion, or just didn't want to differentiate between the two disorders.

In fact, schizophrenia doesn't tend to involve visual hallucinations, usually just auditory ones - often in the form of voices. That's not as powerful of a filmmaking device, so it's pretty common for filmmakers to freely mix and match symptoms of different psychoses.

Killing Lily
Why does Nina need to kill the Lily fragment in her mind? It's because her integration of the personality traits she was trying to appropriate is incomplete - it formed a separate identity rather than merging into her own. This is not a healthy personality structure, but very dangerous and potentially destructive - having an alien personality fragment shows up as a doppelgänger (projected onto other people with similar characteristics) or a specter haunting her world. For the integration to be successful it needs to become a part of her own identity and to no longer be something alien and frightening. In symbolic stories like this one, this is shown best by the necessity to kill the splinter personality, which then allows the characteristics to integrate properly and helps her to become a more mature person.
Technically she should have also killed the Beth splinter personality. Possibly she did - it isn't clear what happened in that scene, since Beth was seen stabbing herself in the face repeatedly but then Nina was holding the nail file covered with blood. This was mostly meant to convey the confusing and frightening nature of her worsening hallucinations, the escalation of danger. It's possible that by seeing Beth stab herself, when Beth was at that point a projection of Nina, it really was Nina doing the stabbing. Metaphorically I mean. If the real Beth would have been stabbed in her hospital room we would have heard about it, just as we heard when she got hit by a car. It isn't necessary for the real person from whom the character traits were appropriated to be killed, only the splinter personality.
Possibly Aronofsky is inferring that the integration of Beth's 'dark inner drive' was unsuccessful, and that Nina then appropriated both the drive and the sexuality from Lily. 

EDIT 01-07-18: I now believe I was right in my surmise that Nina was unable to integrate Beth's dark inner drive, and this is why she went to the hospital to return the stolen items - the lipstick and the nail file. These items were powerfully symbolic of Nina's attempt at integration, but if the integration was successful she wouldn't have returned them. Probably, if the integration was successful she would have killed Beth (in hallucination, as she killed Lily later). Also - just after this scene is when Nina returns to her room and transforms into the Black Swan and suffers the grotesquely broken shinbones. Not a positive and successful transformation! If she had successfully integrated Beth's dark impulsiveness it would have gone smoothy and she would have been confident and poised as the
Black Swan, the way she is later after killing Lily. So yes - she failed to integrate aggression or sexuality from Beth and then managed to get them both from Lily later.

"A lustful twin - the black swan - tricks and seduces him... "
Veronica is actually the mirror opposite of Nina because she is a natural for the powerful seductive black swan, but would have trouble coming across as sweet and innocent, so she didn't pose as serious of a threat to Nina as Lily, who can do both. This is why Lily is presented as a 'frenemy' to Nina, the only character to be a friend to her but at the same time her most serious rival. Lily is not only a powerful rival for the black swan role, but she lies and manipulates to cheat her out of it, by telling Thomas that Nina was whining (after reassuring Nina that her reaction to all the stress and sexual harassment is perfectly natural) and taking Nina out for drinks and spiking hers with ecstasy with the express purpose of making her 'sick' for the big premiere, thus ensuring the spot for herself. This is Lily tricking Thomas. Then she also has sex with him backstage on a table. It isn't clear whether she seduced him or the other way around, but since the prophetic line spoken earlier by Thomas says the lustful twin seduced him, we can assume that's how it went down.

Why can we make these assumptions? Because the world of the film has already established 2 important things - that Thomas' revision of Swan Lake is prophetic in the film's world, and that actions that repeat are important - they fit the infinite reflections theme. We've already heard the word 'seduce' in a highly charged context in an earlier scene, when Thomas made his first big move on Nina in his office and said "That was me seducing you - it needs to be the other way around". This indicates that for the black swan role he's looking for a dancer who has that seductive ability and is not afraid to use it. Essentially he's saying if you want the part you need to come on to me. That's a key part of the film's premise - Nina is too timid to seduce him - in fact that was the point of that scene. It was what she went there to do, but she lacked the backbone and 'chickened out'. She hadn't yet assimilated Lily's sexuality. By seducing her he was showing her how he expected her to behave if she wanted the role badly enough.

So even though it isn't explicitly shown in the film, we can safely assume Lily did exactly that, backstage in the dark when they thought everybody was already gone. This is another example of the sophistication that I like about the film - it doesn't hit you over the head (well, not all the time anyway), but expects you to deduce a few things from context.

The Strobelight Dance Scene parallels Nina's Black Swan number
Aronofky makes sure you see the gigantic moon in the 3rd act of the ballet, and it also shows up for a single frame in the strobelight dance sequence, plus Nina and the imaginary Lily tell Nina's mom they've been "to the moon and back". This many appearances makes the moon a motif, meaning it has some importance in the film.

I think the moon is probably a prominent feature for act 2 of all versions of the ballet - the romantic dances on the lake. That's probably its only significance here, since Aronofsky avoided choosing from the many conflicting endings by using the ambiguous ending he did, which abruptly cuts off the story before a conclusion can be reached. There's no sign of a pair of swans rising past the moon, or that Thomas stopped his hedonistic ways and fell in love with Nina.

One of the things Aronofsky has stripped from Swan Lake is the idea of social responsibility represented in the ballet by the necessity for Siegfried to marry Odile (the evil twin) simply because he professed his love for her under false pretenses. Modern society has foregone any such contrivances for ordinary people along with the notion of arranged marriages, and in the film sexual attraction seems to have been substituted for love. Nina's only potential romantic partners are Thomas and Andrew (Jerry of Tom and Jerry in the bar scene). Thomas was offering only sexual predation and Andrew was just a potential hookup. Does Aronofsky's 'stripping down' include removing romantic love? It would have been a very different movie if it included the idea that Nina miraculously lived and found true love in the end - not nearly as bold and daring as the one he made but a lot more in line with typical Hollywood romance. That's not what Aronofsky is about, he's a fiercely independent filmmaker who wants to shake up those fairy tale notions that more rightfully belong in a Disney flick.

Interesting note - Thomas can be shortened to Tom. Is it possible that 'Tom and Jerry' represent the light and dark sides of Thomas - Siegfried and Von Rothbart? She is seen dancing with all 4 in the strobelight sequence. If so it would make sense that Nina was naturally more attracted to Andrew, and Lily to Tom. Tom insulted ballet whereas Andrew was much more receptive to it and seemed to gravitate naturally to the innocent Nina rather than the dark and seductive Lily. He never professed his undying love for her, but Andrew did tell Nina she was beautiful, and since sexual attraction is substituted for love in the film, that might count as the same thing. It's hard to tell, but was it Andrew who was seen transforming into a peacock in one frame of the strobelight sequence? If so then that lends a lot of credence to this theory.

The dance scene, which I assume takes place at a night club after they leave the bar, is where the things happen in reality that will later happen onstage - Nina is able to dance without the need for obsessive control, she just lets herself go. This scene is also where, once she has taken ecstasy, she is able to access her sexuality and power without getting locked up by anxiety. I think when Lily gave her the X she was hoping it would have the opposite effect - trigger Nina's anxiety and really mess her up on the night before her big premiere.

So really it's this scene where we witness Nina's transcendence - and then it's simply repeated onstage for the ballet. Note the many similarities in the 2 scenes - before going onstage for the dance Nina experiences exactly the same symptoms as when she took ecstasy - her skin becomes covered with a light sheen of sweat and starts rippling with goose-flesh (clever, eh?), she starts moving her head around in a birdlike fashion, making small cooing sounds in her throat, and takes on a confident predatory look. It's also important to note - when the gooseflesh starts rippling across her hands, she looks at it but for the first time she isn't horrified by the transformation. It's thanks to the ecstasy that she is no longer afraid of sexuality or power.

An important detail - Nina takes off her pink coat and instead puts on a little black dress Lily gives her. She's just thrown off the cloying mantle of her mother's forced infantilism and put on the Black Swan outfit. Nina is appropriating some of Lily's sexuality the same way she took the lipstick and nail file from Beth to appropriate her power. Lily has unknowingly sealed her own fate.

At the end of the strobelight sequence we abruptly cut to Nina in what could be a bathroom stall or some kind of small niche with concrete walls resembling the backstage area of the dance studio except there's grafitti everywhere. She's making out with a random stranger, suddenly pushes him away and stalks the narrow corridors with exactly the same bold confident stride she will later use backstage after the black swan number.

Nina danced the black swan in the end - it didn't dance her
Poised and confident, not monstrous or evil

Earlier when she was undergoing the stages of transformation into the Black Swan it was like a horrible affliction - some terrifying curse taking her over. Her legs broke painfully, her neck stretched out with a sickening sound, and her eyes were filled with blood.

This is how a naive infantilized timid soul experiences the onset of sexuality and power that comes with adulthood. But when she danced the Black Swan at the end there were none of those negative symptoms - rather the transformation this time seemed very pleasant, and in fact it closely resembled her ecstasy experience from the bar scene. It’s possible that she took some more ecstasy for the big dance number - in fact it would doubtless have been a good idea, but I can find no indication that she did. Rather I think it was a totally natural high - she had just assumed her adult power in the relationship with her mom by fighting back physically and announcing that she was moving out. She had experienced her first orgasm the night before and thanks to Lilly had also experienced probably her first taste of friendship and a social life with drinking, swearing and the opportunity for real sex. She had danced in the club without the obsessive need for control, letting herself go. All of this plus Lily’s “What’re you going to do - go home to Mommy?” was the push she needed to achieve individuation and decide to become independent. So ironically, though Lilly was her rival and Nina became extremely paranoid about her motives, Lilly was the only character to actually show her friendship. 

Look at these frame grabs from the end of the scene:
The first is Nina’s view of herself as the Black Swan, with her arms actually transformed into wings. Many shots throughout the movie are meant to portray Nina's subjective view of things. That’s why the choice was made to do so much of the film in tight shots of her face or her head - much of the movie takes place there after all. 

But to prove that it was only her subjective viewpoint, the next shot is an objective view from the audience, and it’s clear she’s fully human, just with a pair of Black Swan shadows on the wall behind her. It wasn't exactly one of her hallucinations this time, more that she 'became' the black swan in her mind and was able to dance it with complete confidence in her own power and sexuality, the qualities she appropriated from Beth and Lilly. Unfortunately, in order to achieve this, she needed to perform a powerful act that proved to be fatal - stabbing herself with a mirror shard in order to kill off her mental projection of Lilly.

Of course the reason the black swan is fearsome and terrifying to Nina at first is because it's her Jungian shadow - the dark repressed parts of her personality that she sees as alien and frightening. But she's able to successfully integrate it and it becomes a balanced part of her now mature personality. This is why she's able to dance the black swan at the end.

Death Bed

In the big swan dive finale, Nina lands on a mattress. It looks just like a regular mattress from a bed. Could this be meant to tie in with her own bed? Most dance studios would have a supply of mats that can be stacked if extra padding is needed. It seems odd that they'd use a  mattress, which is a rather small target for her to fall onto. I believe this scene is meant to link with other scenes with Nina in a bed, of which we see several. 

I suspect this death scene is linked to Nina's orgasm scene which took place in her bed, and at the height of which her head was framed by what looked like a halo. Ties in perfectly with the manner of her death - bleeding out from a Christlike stab wound in the abdomen. And Christ did his famous Resurrection bit, didn't he? 

My thought is that the final scene represents exactly what the opening shot of Nina in her bed does - an awakening. In each scene she's bathed by light, which isn't there at the beginning of the scene. In her first awakening scene her mother opens the shades to let some sunlight fall across her.

 In the deathbed scene it's an ethereal white light that grows stronger and stronger until she disappears into it.

So these scenes are connected and share a common meaning. Both of them are an awakening, but this time rather than awakening into her ongoing nightmare of entrapment to her mothers evil spell, it's an awakening from that nightmare, into freedom. 

One possible theory is that we're seeing the symbolic death of the white swan in Nina - the timid sexually repressed part of her that's been in evidence through most of the film. If the scene is symbolic then it would explain the sudden gushing of blood from her wound that up until that moment had just trickled a bit.

She doesn't necessarily die. The Film Theorists Youtube channel has posted an alternate reading of the final episode of Breaking Bad in which they point out that Walt doesn't necessarily die. His situation was very similar to Nina's - a gut wound that allowed him to walk around for quite a while before he collapsed (just as hers allowed her to do the greatest dance number of her life). They go into a lot of detail about gut wounds - the important factors are whether a vital organ was punctured (obviously not in both cases or death would have been very fast) and how quickly the victim can be gotten to a hospital. They also show some surprising statistics concerning how many people actually survive terrible gut wounds every year that seem like they should have been fatal. In Nina's case it's already been established in the film universe that there's a hospital close by - apparently Nina walked there to visit Beth, though the jump cut might have edited out her boarding the subway or a cab. But I mean come on - it's downtown New freaking York! How hard can it be to get someone to a hospital?

We know the location of the dance recital - this shot indicates it's at Lincoln Center:

Here's a Google map of Lincoln Center where I did a search for hospitals:

I've marked Lincoln Center in red and the nearby hospitals in blue. There are 2 in easy walking distance. I included the scale indicator at the bottom - it's no more than 600 feet from any of these buildings to a hospital. A couple of the male dancers could have loaded her on an impromptu stretcher and carried her to one in a matter of minutes!! Or a phone call could have paramedics on hand just as fast.

The other important factor is how profuse the bleeding is. The wound seemed not to be bleeding much even through her very strenuous dance number, but suddenly as she was falling onto the mattress it burst out in massive hemorrhaging. Seems a bit odd, doesn't it? And keep in mind I've already identified the falling shot as fantasy. But the following one, of her laying on the mattress bleeding profusely, does seem to be objective; it's from the point of view of the other dancers. So it remains ambiguous and it's possible that the fade to white doesn't mean she literally dies. Of course for the film to adhere strictly to the melodrama form her death is necessary - otherwise it's not a tragedy. And also, it has to end the way Swan Lake does, with her death. 

But this is all just theorizing, and ultimately Aronofsky intended this point to be ambiguous. We just don't know whether she lives or dies. I also believe he intends for the point to be moot - the important thing is her awakening - her individuation into a complete integrated person finally free of the psychological torments heaped onto her previously. So even if she is dying, at least she achieved that freedom - she was perfect. Not just as a dancer, but as a human being. And, if she was dying, that shining moment of perfection was the last thing she experienced. What a way to go, huh?

Circularity Theme
The similarity between the death scene and Nina's awakening at the beginning (after the prologue dream sequence) suggests circularity - the idea that the movie is a circuit rather than linear. In other words, rather than it being over, you can go right back to the beginning and watch it again - an infinitely repeating cycle. If you do it seems as if the prologue isn't a dream sequence but the afterlife, with a glaring white spotlight (the same light that overwhelmed her in the death scene?) shining down on Nina in her white swan outfit, which is what she was wearing when she died. It's a different outfit, but if she has just crossed over into the afterlife then you would expect things to be different. It looks very angelic.

I wasn't sure what to make of this circularity theme for a while. It seemed like it made sense but only for a couple of minutes, and after a certain point you're just watching the movie again. What would be the point of it all happening again? And again and again, if it's to be carried through to the inevitable conclusion. And then it hit me - Nina literally represents thousands of other dancers. Several times in this analysis I've said that - it's the point of the infinite reflection motif. What if you imagine it with different names each time - not only different names, but completely different people, different situations. What it means is that this same kind of thing has happened to countless others before her and will happen to countless more after her. Nina is just the one chosen to represent the cycle.

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EDIT 01-07-18: I have now seen Aronofsky's new film mother!, and it has an even more obvious circularity theme. It shares several things in common with Black Swan - a female protagonist who is very vulnerable and tender being subjected to a lot of abuse and dying in the end, but followed by a rebirth of sorts. In mother! it's not the same actress - and this supports my idea that Nina was merely a representative of the thousands of dancers who have gone before her and the thousands more who will follow. She is a sort of redemption figure, a  blood sacrifice to redeem them all.

I also got some comments that Aronofsky would not include Christ imagery because he's Jewish. Well, he has now done the film Noah, as well as mother! which is actually a Gnostic take on Genesis from the Old Testament. Also I saw an interview where he said that he believes all religious stories incorporate great truths and are all fair game for filmmakers - something to that effect anyway.

If you take it this way, then Nina not only suffers and dies like Christ, but is resurrected like him as well, countless times. She's a sacrificial martyr for all the people suffering the same things she has. Not only ballet dancers, but people experiencing forced infantilization and sexual repression too.  

And if you also factor in the theme of the film spilling over into reality, then maybe in a sense Nina actually is a savior. Her sacrifice may touch the lives of countless people suffering from the same situations - bring these issues into awareness; both publicly and in the lives of the people who need it most - those suffering who might not have a name for their pain or even understand the nature of it yet. In researching for this analysis I've run across discussions online touching on these subjects, and it's shocking how many people completely deny that these themes are in the film or actually happen in reality. Pure fingers in the ears la la la I can't hear you denialism. Hopefully the film will continue to create more discussions and open more minds to these shadowy realities that need to be brought into the light. 

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This is just a fun little detail I noticed. I don't think it has any symbolic significance, but it does make it seem like Nina has had an axe to grind for a long time:

The first clip is from Natalie Portman's first film Leon: The Professional. There's a strong intimation of a sexual relationship between the little girl and an adult, though it's initiated by little Mathilda - I think of the movie as La Femme Lolita. It's not shown in this clip, but there's a shot of her foster parents in the bathroom where the mother is putting on lipstick very similarly to how Nina did in the train window in Black Swan. Her foster mother is a hooker getting ready to go to work. Natalie plays basically the polar opposite role from the one in Black Swan though, a little girl who's mature beyond her years and has no problem accessing sexuality and power, though of course it's an immature sexuality. Fun factoid - it's a Transformer who says it first, and when Natalie says it she's transforming into the black swan.

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It's been a great pleasure for me to do this Black Swan analysis! It's just a gorgeous movie - not only because of the lingering closeups on Natalie Portman -  and I ended up loving it even more afterward than I did originally. Finding all of the intricately crafted puzzles embedded there by Aronofsky and crew and working ever deeper into the rabbit hole was a months-long process that made me intimately familiar with the film on many levels. Very few movies can withstand this many rewatchings, but Black Swan came through with flying colors. This was my first attempt at an in-depth analysis, and I was fortunate enough to discover the right film at the right time. I tried many others, but none of them yielded up the buried treasures this one did. A heartfelt thank you to Darren Aronofsky and everyone who helped create Black Swan, with special emphasis on the amazing handheld cinematography of Matthew Libatique.


  1. This is an amazing analysis. I also read the ending as a "symbolic death" of Nina's previous innocent/ good-girl self, and the resurrection of a sexual/ bad girl. One thing that needs to be pointed out is that when Nina is in her white-swan costumes during the final scene, she has already incorporated the black-swan psyche. The breaking of boundaries (that between good girl and bad girl, that between the white swan and the black swan, and that of her body) is a recurring theme in this film, and is closely connected to her sexual awakening. I did not notice the Christ's wound analogy though, but the theory is highly convincing. Thank you for this analysis.

  2. Wow, a very insightful comment!! Excellent point about Nina already having incorporated the Black Swan elements while wearing the White Swan costume at the end. Must ponder this further.