Black Swan: Emotional abuse en pointe

Intro by Brandon

Mental illness and trauma are tricky things. Sometimes, they go unnoticed for years, leaving survivors to wonder what the hell is wrong with them and what could be causing all these weird issues that make you different than everyone else. Sometimes, everyone around you misses those signs and just assumes you’re awkward, shy, and not very good at life. Sometimes you yourself fail to see these signs until years have gone by and you’re already deep in a pit of suffering brought on by mental illness or trauma. And, sadly, there are some people who never fully realize what’s wrong with them, and go through life thinking they’re a failure.

Pulling back the curtain on mental health issues can be vital in being your best you, but if you don’t know what to look for, it can seem impossible, like you’re trying to put together a puzzle without looking at the picture on the box. The failure of others around you to see those issues can make that process so much worse. In a sense, that’s the real tragedy of today’s film.

This episode, we’re taking a look at Darren Aronofsky’s brilliant psychological thriller ballerina movie, Black Swan. Just like the scenarios I described, there’s a lot of turmoil going on behind that curtain of mystery that most of the characters never see—and, sadly, most of the viewers never see it either. I saw this film twice before I realized what was really going on, and it’s only because a trauma survivor spelled it out for me in a blog post. Pulling back the curtain on the main character Nina’s psychological issues gives new meaning to this film, just like it does for the many people suffering mental health issues today.

The plot of Black Swan follows Nina, a young ballerina trying to be the best in her company, as she tries to transform herself to fit the dual role of the swan queen in a production of Swan Lake. The white swan is personified by grace, precision, control, and purity; the black swan is personified by brilliance, intuition, a hint of rebellion, and sexuality. Nina begins the film as a great depiction of the white swan, but she must learn to embrace her darker side to become the black swan when the role calls for it. As she lets her black swan out, things begin to unravel and the curtain is pulled back on her significant mental health issues; however, just as Nina hasn’t fully realized the full extent of her issues, they’re not explicitly stated in the film, leaving viewers to put the pieces together to find out what’s really going on with her.

Black Swan is a film with a lot going on underneath the surface and it gives viewers a lot to think about. Mental illness, trauma, the high cost of perfection in art, and the messed up behind-the-scenes world of ballet are all explored here in great depth, and there are some brilliant metaphors in play to help describe what’s going on. This is a great film that shows viewers what it’s like to struggle with issues you can’t begin to explain or understand, which is something a lot of us with mental illness and past trauma have dealt with. Maria and I are going to pull back the curtain on Nina and her issues here to help shed some light on this complex character and film, and, hopefully, the process of understanding your own mental health issues. All that and more, coming up in this episode of Peculiar Picture Show, the podcast that talks about movies, maladies, and mental health.

Musical selections in this episode include from Fugue:

“Over Me” by Roman Bulakhov

“Le Dernier Jour De Automne” by Tyufyakin Konstantin

“Dandy” by Mosbrass

“Believe It or Not” by Max Sergeev

And also, “u know” by Young Kartz, from the Free Music Archive.


B: As someone with mental illness, losing control is one of the things that you fear the most. I hardly ever drink in the presence of others because I don’t want to lose control. Losing my inhibitions is terrifying for me.

M: If you don’t see someone die on screen, there’s always that possibility that they might come back….Black Swan 2 may be coming out soon.

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