Camera as Psychosis: The Cinematography of Black Swan
As she makes her way through the backstage behind the curtain at State University of New York at Purchase, one can tell all is not right with Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman). The camera trails in front her, sycophantically, as she is replete with hypnotic beauty in black and white, still standing out from the grey walls and dark surroundings. Her body quivers powerfully and almost orgasmically. The only thing the audience needs to see is Nina’s eyes to see nothing is right, even as her arms transform, and the camera steps forwards briefly to gaze upon the face that is covered in makeup to reveal that Nina has mutated into something else entirely. But is it real? Who is really seeing this? The cinematography in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan plays a crucial role in understanding the film’s depiction of psychosis. Nina is one of Aronofsky’s least sane characters, but utilizing various camera tricks and a kind of meta-reflexivity, there is a subtle insanity that works behind each shot to confuse the audience as much as Nina is, while the vérité style with which it is shot allows the film’s foundation to be primarily subjective. Few films play up schlocky horror against dramatic portrayals of mental illness so well, and Black Swan is one of them.