AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Black Swan
Director: Darren Aronofsky (Dir)
Release Date:   3 Dec 2010
Duration (in mins):  108 or 110
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Cast: Natalie Portman  (Nina Sayers/The Swan Queen)
  Vincent Cassel  (Thomas Leroy/The Gentleman)
  Mila Kunis  (Lily/The Black Swan)

Summary: Nina Sayers, a soloist in a New York dance company, lives a sheltered existence, single-mindedly dedicated to perfecting her technique. Her mother, Erica, danced in the ballet chorus until she became pregnant and now lives vicariously through Nina’s career. Over-protective yet envious, Erica smothers Nina, who still keeps stuffed animals and a child’s ballerina music box in her pink bedroom. Although the discipline of the dance and Erica’s obsessive hovering has kept Nina innocently sweet, she increasingly sees images of a darker version of herself projected onto the faces of strangers and hears voices that laugh and taunt her. One morning Nina awakens from a dream that she is dancing the coveted role of the “Swan Queen.” Later, at the theater, the troupe is abuzz with gossip that company director, Thomas Leroy, is replacing Beth Macintyre, the forty-ish principal dancer who is also his lover. During rehearsal, Thomas confirms the rumor by announcing that the troupe’s new season will open with the classic, Swan Lake , and that he will cast fresh talent in the dual role of the “White Swan” and the “Black Swan.” As the dancers warm up, Thomas briefly reviews the ballet’s story of a virginal girl trapped in a swan’s body by a spell only true love can break. He says that the prince who loves her is tricked and seduced by her lustful twin, a black swan, causing the devastated white swan to leap off a cliff, where in death she finds freedom. That afternoon Nina sneaks into the dressing room of Beth, who she admires, and steals her lipstick. At Nina’s audition, Thomas says she is ideal for the White Swan but he doubts she can portray the Black Swan. As Nina dances, he tells her to “lose control” and seduce the audience, but her performance is interrupted by Lily, a new dancer to the company who bursts into the room and causes Nina to lose concentration. The next day, Nina meets with Thomas to ask for the role, but he says he has chosen another dancer. He tells Nina that she is beautiful, fearful and fragile, but that perfection is not about control and she never loses herself in the dance. He then kisses her passionately, but, startled, she bites him, apologizes and leaves. Later, Nina learns that she has been cast as the Swan Queen. After vomiting in a toilet stall, she calls Erica to tell her the news, and then is upset to see the word, “whore,” scrawled in red across the restroom mirror. To celebrate, Erica buys a huge cake for the two of them, but Nina is too nervous to enjoy it. However, because her refusal makes Erica hurt and angry, Nina forces herself to eat. Another day while rehearsing with David, the dancer portraying “The Prince,” Thomas again urges Nina to embody the evil twin. During Nina’s break, she watches Lily dance with exuberance and Thomas points out that Lily is imprecise but effortless. At an event for ballet supporters, Thomas announces Beth’s retirement and introduces Nina. Afterward, Nina takes refuge in the toilet, where Lily finds her and tries unsuccessfully to initiate a conversation. Outside, a drunken Beth confronts Nina and bitterly suggests that she traded sexual favors to get the role. Thomas invites Nina to his apartment for a drink, where he asks Nina intrusive questions about her sexual history. When she demurs, he instructs her to go home and “touch” herself in order to relax. At home, Erica insists on helping Nina undress and, discovering scratch marks on her back from a nervous habit, cuts Nina’s fingernails. Early the next morning, Nina attempts to masturbate as Thomas advised, but discovers that Erica has fallen asleep in a chair in her room. That day, Nina learns that Beth has been hospitalized after being hit by a car. Thomas tells Nina that he suspects Beth caused the accident, because she acts on dark impulses, and adds that the dark side may be the reason that her dancing was thrilling to watch. During her rehearsal with David, Thomas calls Nina’s dancing “frigid,” then detains her when the others leave. He has her dance with him and, asking her to respond to the touch of his roving hand, kisses her passionately. After she is feverish with desire, he stops, tells her to do the seducing and departs. Left alone, Nina is weeping when Lily enters and, breaking rules, smokes. Although Nina is reticent about her troubles, Lily suggests that Thomas is a “prick” and when Nina defends him, Lily teases that she is attracted to him. That night in her bath, Nina touches herself, but has a frightening vision of blood and of someone, perhaps herself, floating prostrate above her. At the next rehearsal, Thomas accuses Nina of whining to Lily. Incensed, Nina confronts Lily, who defends herself, saying that she told Thomas to ease up on Nina. At home that night, Erica demands to look at the scratches on Nina’s back, but Nina refuses. Unexpectedly, Lily arrives to apologize and, against Erica’s wishes, Nina goes to dinner with her. Nina watches Lily flirt with the waiter and, at a nightclub, discovers she has picked up two men. To help her relax, Lily spikes Nina’s drink, promising the drug’s effect will last only a couple hours. The drug frees Nina, who dances seductively with Lily and the men, then finds herself engaged in sex with a stranger in the toilet. She runs out to hail a cab, and Lily follows. When Nina arrives home, she demands privacy and pulls Lily into her bedroom, where they kiss passionately. As the two have frenzied sex, Nina sees herself instead of Lily, but the spell is quickly broken and she loses herself in an orgasm. When she awakens the next morning, Lily is not there. Rushing to the theater, Nina finds Lily filling in for her, dancing the Swan Queen. Denying that she went home with Nina, Lily teases Nina for fantasizing about her. Throughout the day, Nina becomes increasingly paranoid about Lily and vomits, and that evening, she throws her stuffed animals in the garbage chute. The day before the opening performance, Nina rehearses the death of the White Swan, in which she drops into a pit onto a cushion. As she has her costume fitted, Nina imagines that her reflection in the mirror moves independently of her. When Thomas chooses Lily as her alternate, Nina begs him to choose another, arguing that Lily wants to replace her. Amused, Thomas says everyone wants Nina’s role and tells her, “Tomorrow is yours.” That night, Nina remains at the theater practicing relentlessly until the piano player refuses to continue. While she is alone in the rehearsal room, someone turns off the theater’s master switch and the room goes dark. Believing she hears laughter and movement, Nina follows the sound to the stage, where she thinks she sees Thomas and Lily making frantic love. Nina runs to her dressing room, grabs several items that she purloined from Beth and proceeds to her hospital room. There she lays out earrings, a nail file, a small bottle of cologne, a packet of cigarettes and lipstick. Awakening, Beth accuses her of stealing her belongings, but Nina apologizes and explains that she wants to be perfect like her. Beth says she is not perfect, then repeatedly stabs herself in the face with the nail file. Nina struggles to stop her, but then runs to the elevator where she finds the bloody nail file in her hand. After she returns home, Beth appears to her, but she is only in Nina’s imagination. Believing she hears Erica crying, Nina enters her bedroom, where faces in the portraits in the room talk to her all at once. She thinks she sees Beth again, but realizes it is Erica. After locking herself in her own bedroom, Nina looks in the mirror and sees her eyes turning red. She pulls little black feathers from the scratch wounds on her back. Concerned, Erica breaks through the door’s lock, but Nina repeatedly slams the door on her hand. After pushing Erica out, Nina’s body contorts and her legs bend backward like a swan’s, which causes her to fall and hit her head. The next morning, she awakens late in the day and finds that Erica has her locked in her room and has told the company that she is ill. Nina fights her for the key and proceeds to the theater, where Thomas has already asked Lily to perform in her stead. However, when Nina insists that she will perform, Thomas tells her Nina that she stands in her own way and advises that she lose herself. As she dresses, Nina imagines that her toes are webbing. On cue, she enters the stage and dances the White Swan. From the wings, she thinks she sees Lily caressing The Prince. When Nina and The Prince dance together, he drops her, but Nina continues dancing behind tears. Between acts, Nina finds Lily in her dressing room. Lily says Nina is not up to dancing the Black Swan, and her face turns into Nina’s face. Nina pushes Lily into a full length mirror, which breaks. As they struggle, Nina insists that it is her turn. With a glass shard from the mirror, Nina stabs Lily in the stomach, killing her, then hides the body in the shower. As she enters the stage for the next act as the Black Swan, Nina’s eyes turn red. Fearsome and free, she seduces The Prince and the audience cheers. Backstage as she waits for her cue, Nina feels her arms grow black feathers. As she takes a bow after the act, the crowd calls her name. Backstage, she kisses Thomas passionately, then returns to her dressing room to prepare for the last act. Seeing blood seeping out of the shower room, Nina covers it with a towel and begins dressing as the White Swan. A knock at the door proves to be Lily, who wants to congratulate her on her performance. Acknowledging the problems between them, Lily apologizes before she leaves. Confused, Nina looks under the towel and sees no blood, and there is no one in the shower. Upon discovering a hole in her costume, Nina pulls a glass shard out of her stomach, but returns to the stage for the final act. For the death scene of the White Swan, Nina falls onto the cushion, as the audience and other performers cheer. When the audience repeatedly calls her name, Thomas urges Nina to return to the stage for a bow. Lily is the first to see the growing blood stain at Nina’s stomach and gasps. Thomas asks Nina what she has done to herself and Nina responds, “I felt it. I was perfect.” 

Distribution Company: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Cross Creek Pictures
Production Company: Prøtøzøa
Phoenix Pictures
Director: Darren Aronofsky (Dir)
  Joseph Reidy (1st asst dir)
  Amy Lauritsen (2d asst dir)
  Travis Rehwaldt (2d 2d asst dir)
  Jennifer Roth (Unit prod mgr)
Producer: Mike Medavoy (Prod)
  Arnold W. Messer (Prod)
  Brian Oliver (Prod)
  Scott Franklin (Prod)
  Bradley J. Fischer (Exec prod)
  Peter Fruchtman (Exec prod)
  Ari Handel (Exec prod)
  Jon Avnet (Exec prod)
  Rick Schwartz (Exec prod)
  Tyler Thompson (Exec prod)
  David Thwaites (Exec prod)
  Jennifer Roth (Exec prod)
  Joseph Reidy (Co-prod)
  Gerald Fruchtman (Co-prod)
  Able Equipment (Cranes and dollies by)
Writer: Mark Heyman (Scr)
  John McLaughlin (Scr)
  Andrés Heinz (Scr)
  Andrés Heinz (Story)

Subject Major: Ballerinas
  Mental illness
  Mothers and daughters
  Personality change
  Swan Lake (Ballet)
Subject Minor: Auditions
  Death and dying
  New York City
  Single parents
  Wounds and injuries

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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