The movie 'Black Swan’ follows the story of Nina, a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother Erica, who lives vicariously through Nina and zealously supports her daughter’s professional ambition. Nina is selected by the artistic director, Thomas Leroy, as prima ballerina for the opening production of the new season, Swan Lake. Nina has competition in a new dancer, Lily, who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As they expand their rivalry into a contorted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her. This causes her to enter a downward spiral of hallucinations and anxiety disorders. The Black Swan thus cuts deep into the psychology of Nina. This essay seeks to apply several psychological themes to the movie and discusses how: dream theory based on an explicit dream, how colours, specifically white and black, affect Nina’s behaviour, how the dancer brain functions in executing dance routines, and the increasingly abnormal psychology she exhibits as the movie progresses.
In the ballet, Swan Lake, the antagonist black swan seduces the prince from the white swan. Thus, the role of the evil black swan requires the dancer to exhibit sensuality and seductiveness, foreign concepts to Nina who was raised in a conservative family. Despite Thomas’s (the company director) sexual advances upon her as a means for her to unlock her sexual inhibitions, Nina ultimately resists and is unable to ‘lose herself’.
In one part of the movie, Nina is seen having a ‘dream’ of Lily and her where the two are engaging in sexual activity. They start kissing passionately and move over to Nina’s bed where Lily performs sexual acts on her, all the while being submissive.
In the “wish fulfillment” theory of dreams (Freud, 1900), Sigmund Freud believed that the main reason for dreaming was due to wish fulfillment where people dreamed in order to fulfill unconscious urges and unmet needs. Taking this at surface level, Nina’s ultimate wish is to become better as the black swan. However, one obstacle is her inability to reach her dark side, which can be aided through sexually liberating herself. Nina’s dream unlocks this side of her which would certainly not have happened in real life based on her conservative upbringing. Freud breaks down dream content to manifest and latent content.
The manifest content is what the dream depicts superficially and is what one would be able to explain to a friend consciously after waking up from the dream. In this case, this refers to Lily performing the sexual acts on Nina. This is often nonsensical and bizarre, which to Nina would be the case. The latent content holds the true meaning of the dream – one’s forbidden thoughts and unconscious desires. Despite putting up a strong conservative front, evidenced by her resistance to Thomas’ sexual advances, unconsciously (or at least subconsciously) she feels the need and desire to “lose herself” (as Tomas advises her to). This is coupled with Nina’s frustrations at not being able to sexually liberate herself. Freud believed that the latent content of dreams is “suppressed and hidden by the subconscious mind in order to protect the individual from thoughts and feelings that are hard to cope with”. In the manifest dream, that Nina is the submissive party could be a way to suppress her desire to be sexually aggressive or liberated by still portraying that vulnerable image that she has. The sexual content in Nina’s dreams about sex also supports Freud’s preoccupation with sexual content in dreams and his assertion that sex is the root cause of what occurs in dreams, in The...
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