by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin; Story by Andres Heinz
Goldenrod Revisions (Shooting Draft) - January 2010
Psychological Drama, 102 pages
"I felt it." - Nina
I'm starting to think I should write a blog about what I remember about a film and then compare it to the actual film. Or perhaps it would be more interesting to survey a group of people to get the consensus and then compare. Of course, that's not what this particular post is about, but Black Swan is another film in which my recollection barely scratched the surface of the story.
Reading through the script, I was most impressed by how much I was shown rather than told. Nina, the protagonist, isn't exactly sane. She sees things that no one else sees and can experience things that are completely removed from reality. Getting into her brain is a difficult task in a visual medium, but the screenwriters pulled her fantasies out and let us experience them with her.
The film opens with the prologue of Swan Lake, and we soon find out:
Nina: "I had the most amazing dream last night. I was dancing the White Swan."
We instantly know what she wants, that she's a good dancer, and that she's possibly a bit off as, in the same scene, she's making an excuse for a scratch mark on her shoulder. Although she acts like it's nothing, her mother's "suspicious look" shows us there is more than meets the eye.
Nina's self-destructive habits come crashing down as the story unfolds. Bulimia. Uncontrollable scratching. Ripping skin off her knuckles. She's also seeing someone else around town - quick flashes, mostly. "The woman looks EXACTLY LIKE HER." However, on second glance, the woman is always gone or is someone else - not another Nina. This escalates until a moment toward the end of Act 2 when Nina takes Lily home for a night of drunken, drugged sex. The hint:
"Then Lily gets back on top of Nina. The tattooed lilies on her back undulate and spread out. Morphing into dark wings."
Last I checked, tattoos are static images. They don't grow or change, even during sex. There's another moment in the scene when Nina sees her own double, the girl that looks exactly like her that she's been seeing throughout the film, but on second glance the person going down on her is, in fact, Lily.
Except it wasn't. At rehearsal the next day, it's revealed that Lily never returned to Nina's apartment with her. Whatever Nina did she did alone, and a lot of it was a fantasy inside her head.
At this point, all bets are off. In Nina's mind, she begins to transform:
"She looks down, sees one of her knees SNAP backwards, like that of a bird. Then the other knee SNAPS back."
The fact that I can see these images along with Nina successfully keeps me on her side. However, the script fooled me, as psychological dramas need to do. I believed that Nina was self-destructive, and I also had no problem believing that she'd lash out at someone else, especially as, toward the break into Act 3, she repeatedly slams her mother's hand in a doorway.
When Swan Lake opens, Nina falls during Act 2 of the opening night performance. It's a disaster. Backstage in between acts, she finds Lily in her dressing room donning the Black Swan costume, saying that she'll dance that part for Nina. Now, in the mirror, Nina sees her double, which she charges. When the mirror shatters, her double attacks. Nina can barely fight back, but she eventually gets the upper hand and drives a shard of the mirror into her double's stomach. Only after this does Nina realize that the double was Lily. She drags Lily's bleeding, dead body into her clothing wardrobe and goes to dance the next act.
That feels like a mind-bending twist. Nina, the innocent, troubled-yet-tender protagonist, is now a murderer. Only she's not. The next act goes perfectly, but during the break backstage, Lily comes to congratulate her. Dead Lily, as in the person whose body is currently make a bloody puddle under Nina's wardrobe. This can't be right. When Nina turns back around, there is no blood. No body in the wardrobe. Instead, she realizes that she's bleeding from her own abdomen. Nina stabbed herself.
At that point, the ending becomes inevitable but remains rewarding. Nina doesn't call for help. She goes on and dances the final act, barely making it up to the platform in order to, as the White Swan, leap to her death. The ballet over, she is unable to get up. Yet Nina is satisfied. "It was perfect."
While I was never told that Nina was, essentially, insane, I saw it through the script and I experienced the transformations and confusion with her. Her inner mind was effectively visualized, and I enjoyed the ride.