Language and Sexual Content
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Language and Sexual Content: 3 Stars
The sexual content in the Black Swan is tricky at times, but overall, the sexual scenes are far more liberating than they are degrading. There are a few scenes between Nina and Thomas that are forced and predatory, but Thomas also encourages Nina to embrace the sexuality that she’s been repressing for her most of her adult life. Nina begins to explore her sexuality in a way that is rarely expressed in film. She learns to enjoy herself and even fantasizes about sex with another woman. In both cases she is able to arouse herself, without relying on Thomas or anyone else for her satisfaction.
Gender Roles - Women: 3 Stars
Nina could not have become the amazing dancer that she is without strength, determination, and self-control. The Black Swan deftly portrays the sort of passion and endurance it takes to become a flawless ballerina, but it also shows us how frail and impotent Nina haas become. She has become a model of perfection for her mother's sake and for her audience, but her body and her mind are brittle and deteriorating. Despite her inspiring performance, there is little to emulate in Nina's downfall.
Gender Roles - Men: 1 Star
Thomas is something of a predator who uses his position to take advantage of the women under his direction. He demands excellence of his performers, which could be interpreted as a sign of respect for their talents, but more than likely, this insistence on perfection is his method of flattering his own ego. He clearly considers himself superior to his dancers, and has little concern for their well-being on or off the stage.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 1 Star
Nina’s self-esteem is hopelessly intertwined with her success as a dancer. She has no friends, no joys, not even a loving relationship with her mother. All she has is her drive towards perfection, and it’s not even clear whether this is to please herself or someone else.
Nina is also uncommonly thin and has an unhealthy relationship with food. She eats very little and occasionally vomits to maintain her “perfect” form. While no one is directly pressuring Nina, it’s clear that she’s striving to meet the company’s (and her own) rigid expectations. The Black Swan also shows us how quickly a dancer’s career can end, simply because she’s no longer as young and fresh as she once was. In short, the profession is defined by its dancers’ looks, as much as their abilities.
Plot: 2 Stars (Spoilers)
The Black Swan definitely gives Nina the opportunity to shine on stage, but only after she has driven herself to the point of self-destruction. She finds the nerve to stand up to her mother and tap into some of her darker cravings, but she isn’t able to keep her fear from consuming her. In the end she turns in a masterful performance that earns her Thomas’ respect and the admiration of the entire company, but she isn’t able to enjoy the perfection and the glory that she’s fought so hard for. Of course, some might consider it triumphant to die for the sake of one’s art, but whatever the interpretation, Nina lies bleeding and defeated by the end of her performance.
Character Development: 2.5 Stars
Nina isn't very relatable or likable. She's too composed and rigid and afraid of imperfection for audiences to get to know her, and for most of the film we have a hard time discerning what's real and what's not. We do see her grow and change over the course of the film, but even her positive transformations are overshadowed by her mental unraveling. We don't know the twisted history behind her relationship with her mother or what draws her to the beauty of the ballet. We don't know if she's looking for love or freedom or what might make her happy. We want her to be successful, but even early on, we don't have much faith that she'll survive her own toxic expectations.
Friendship: 0 Stars
The Black Swan contains a few instances in which the company’s fiercely competitive ballerinas call each other nasty names or talk about each other with blind venom. While some of this may have been occurring in Nina’s mind, rather than reality, the film portrays women as petty, jealous, and vain. If nothing else, they are clearly more concerned about their own success than building friendships or looking out for each other.