Are psychotic disorders accurately portrayed to the public through popular media? Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” presents a ballerina’s descent into schizophrenia, caused by the pressure and competitive environment of her home and production company.
Nina (played by Natalie Portman) is cast as the Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake in spite of initial trepidation that she would be unable to fulfil the unrestricted and carpe diem nature of the Black Swan. Swan Lake has the Black and White Swans; characters that are polar opposites from one another, and Nina’s state of mind is presented in relation to the character she dons at any particular time. Is this providing a too clear cut definition of the disorder? Schizophrenia is medically described as a progressive disorder, where as well as the white and black, there is a grey area where the disorder is not in full effect.
This grey area is not presented as much in the film, because the focus is on the Black and White Swans only. The clear cut definition is emphasised by scenes in the artist director’s flat in the film, where the entire room and all furniture is either black or white, with no other contrast given. The artist director himself, when describing the premise of Swan Lake, is reflected in a mirror as having two heads, suggesting a split personality of the oncoming mental disorder. A staging of disease progression is not acknowledged either during the film, and this could possibly lead to a misconception that schizophrenia is a disorder that is either fully present or completely absent.
Initially Nina is a very introvert, quiet character, embodying the White Swan’s innocence perfectly. The loss of inhibition and ability to cast of all shackles coincides with her metamorphosis into the Black Swan and the onset of her psychotic episodes. Whilst disinhibition is a schizophrenic episode, it is not the only likely path. Just as likely are negative symptoms, such as blunted emotions, a complete loss of pleasure and other functional disabilities. These are not touched on in the film, but are still severe symptoms of the disorder.
Overall, however, the film is extremely well made; a provocative and thrilling watch and I would recommend it without a moment’s hesitation. The feeling that the disorder could have been dealt with in a better way lingers, but does not diminish the final product.