The plot of the film is built around a the­ater bal­le­ri­na who is fight­ing for the lead role in Swan Lake. How­ev­er, the swans are not what they seem: with the sec­ond lay­er, the direc­tor takes the pic­ture into com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent sub-themes and emo­tions. The poster with the split face of Natal­ie Port­man also hints at the depth of mean­ings.

Dar­ren Aronof­sky is not the main mas­ter of Hol­ly­wood, but with this pic­ture the direc­tor showed how he can work with sub­texts, light and tech­niques in the frame, influ­enc­ing the emo­tion­al per­cep­tion of the pic­ture by the view­er. It is about them that we will talk.

Image: psijournal.ru

This is anoth­er text of a per­ma­nent col­umn in which I ana­lyze the work with col­or, light and fram­ing in cin­e­ma. The pre­vi­ous one can be read here.

For those who care: there may be spoil­ers in the text


“Black Swan” should be added to the text­book on col­or in cin­e­ma — this film is a vivid exam­ple of how pic­ture / col­or / light / angles affect the view­er’s per­cep­tion, as well as the dis­clo­sure of the top­ic. It would seem that the film is about the rival­ry of bal­leri­nas for the main role in the pro­duc­tion. Well, rival­ry and rival­ry is pret­ty com­mon in teen rom-coms. How­ev­er, Aronof­sky real­ly mas­ter­ful­ly works out the details of the pic­ture, so that it appears in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent light and col­or. And from the very first frame.

Frame from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

Bal­let should evoke bright, spec­tac­u­lar asso­ci­a­tions, spot­lights and col­or­ful cos­tumes before your eyes. But the “Black Swan” opens with a twi­light beam of light, snatch­ing out the lone­ly sil­hou­ette of a bal­le­ri­na in pitch dark­ness.

Stills from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

First of all, blue is about lone­li­ness. This col­or frames the life of the main char­ac­ter: her moth­er does not under­stand, she has to fight for the role, she is a lon­er in the bal­let troupe, there is no one to sup­port her.

Sec­ond­ly, the blue col­or and all its shades are cold, lack of warmth, bright­ness and pos­i­tive emo­tions. The film is shot almost entire­ly in gloomy cold shades.

Stills from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

It is even more curi­ous when the silent cold­ness of col­ors pro­gress­es into green hues. The lat­ter in the film is also suf­fi­cient. This is an excep­tion­al col­or scheme, of a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent kind. Green is rarely seen in the direc­tor’s main col­or palette.

For exam­ple, sev­er­al Har­ry Pot­ter films are tint­ed in green shades, there it evokes a direct asso­ci­a­tion with Slytherin, the dark arts, potions, etc. Green in The Matrix helps to dis­tin­guish real­i­ty from unre­al­i­ty, while in Amelie it con­veys fab­u­lous­ness and bal­ances the red in the frame.

In the case of the Black Swan, there are no mag­ic potions, no matrix, no fab­u­lous Paris: the green col­ors in the frame are almost like poi­son, they evoke a feel­ing of dan­ger, fear, anx­i­ety. This is no longer blue, which, although cold, can be a com­pan­ion of silent melan­choly, the green col­or only inten­si­fies the emo­tion­al back­ground.

Stills from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

To coun­ter­bal­ance these melan­cholic tones, the direc­tor resorts to the already proven scheme of yel­low + blue / green. In dif­fer­ent scenes, you can notice the light sources that tint part of the frame in warm col­ors. And they are also paint­ed in a spe­cial way.

We can­not know for sure whether this was part of Aronof­sky’s inter­tex­tu­al­i­ty or whether these mean­ings were invent­ed. How­ev­er, pay atten­tion to the over­all log­ic: warm lights appear in the frame, bal­anc­ing the over­all cold mood, like “rays of light in a dark realm”, but not vice ver­sa. It is impor­tant.

Frame from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky
Stills from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

We go down one more lay­er of the Black Swan: col­ors con­tin­ue to play an impor­tant role. What asso­ci­a­tions should the col­or pink evoke? Light­ness, inno­cence, soft­ness, maybe even child­ish naivety sur­round­ed by Bar­bie dolls.

In addi­tion, pink also lies oppo­site green in Itten’s col­or wheel. The direc­tor intro­duces this col­or very care­ful­ly, with only sep­a­rate ele­ments, clothes. Remark­ably, almost always on the main char­ac­ter. The one in the cold, poi­so­nous realm of lone­li­ness, rival­ry and strug­gle. In this cold, she is emphat­i­cal­ly inno­cent and soft. Remem­ber this moment, it will still play its role.

Stills from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

The finale of the pic­ture is the pro­duc­tion of Swan Lake, for which the char­ac­ters are prepar­ing and rehears­ing through­out the film. Dar­ren Aronof­sky did­n’t show “some end­ing”, with a hero­ine who “won” and became the main bal­le­ri­na of the pro­duc­tion, after all the twists and turns of fate and rival­ry. This is not just the path of the “Hero with a Thou­sand Faces”.

“Black Swan”, like Taran­ti­no’s “Pulp Fic­tion”, with the inver­sion of the plot, oper­ates towards deep­er human val­ues. What we see: just before the final, col­ors inten­si­fy. But again in the frame it is a dead­ly green, and com­ple­ments it with blood red. Then the final step of the actress takes place, and she falls in a pirou­ette on the pre­pared pil­lows.

Stills from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

After land­ing Port­man, the pic­ture of the film becomes unrec­og­niz­able: it is bright, warm, all col­ored with light. Some­thing we haven’t seen in any oth­er scene through­out the movie.

The final scene is a kind of act of rebirth, the res­ur­rec­tion of the char­ac­ter. Not only the one who defeat­ed inner demons and evil fate, but also as a per­son.

Green was real­ly dead­ly, and red was bloody — Beth, in dark hal­lu­ci­na­tions, pierced her­self with a shard of a mir­ror. Only this is left behind, in the past the role of the char­ac­ter. Despite the wound, every­thing is illu­mi­nat­ed with light, as if it is a new, bestowed life. A thou­sand-year-old, per­haps the main cul­tur­al plot, sewn into the frame of a film about a clas­si­cal bal­let pro­duc­tion.

This is where the pink, “inno­cent” col­or of Beth’s cloth­ing ele­ments came in handy. She was in this cold sto­ry, hard­ships fell on her fate in the film, but she was not part of this dark­ness. The lat­ter, in a sense, won, cru­ci­fied her (episode with a shard of a mir­ror). But now we see her again, all in the same scenery, the same cos­tume, in the same world. How­ev­er, there is light and warmth around.


Let’s rewind a lit­tle to see oth­er options that the author used in work­ing with such a mul­ti-lev­el design.

Stills from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

Beth, the hero­ine of Natal­ie Port­man, who has dragged her­self into this dark caul­dron with a green potion, is going through a cri­sis. As if in a cold delir­i­um, she sees things that are not there, she has cloud­ing and point episodes of a split per­son­al­i­ty. That same “dark king­dom” press­es on her.

The direc­tor works out the film in detail so that the view­ers read this state as a sub­text. So in the “Black Swan” appears the leit­mo­tif of mir­rors. The ele­ment itself is more like a hor­ror movie than a pic­ture about a bal­let. The mir­ror cre­ates a visu­al copy of any per­son, and in this case it also works as a life­saver.

In the mir­ror, the hero­ine sees deep cuts on her skin, as if from the claws of a swan, on the mir­ror in the toi­let she reads a rude inscrip­tion addressed to her, in the mir­ror she sees anoth­er she, liv­ing her own life. Mir­rors, mir­rors, mir­rors.

Stills from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

It is worth not­ing the scenes filmed in the bal­let dress­ing room. The room is full of mir­rors of dif­fer­ent sizes and shapes: where is real­i­ty, where is the real hero, and where is the reflec­tion? This is an amaz­ing find by Aronof­sky, which will not be so easy to imple­ment as a styl­is­tic device for pho­tog­ra­phy. How­ev­er, if you suc­ceed, then how is the game with reflec­tions not a rival to the game of mul­ti-col­ored light that is pop­u­lar today?

Frame from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

Sep­a­rate­ly, it is worth tak­ing a look at the scene in Beth’s house, where they, togeth­er with their moth­er, are sit­ting in a room behind her bal­let cos­tume. The char­ac­ters are on oppo­site sides of the screen, com­plete­ly at the edges. They are far from each oth­er. Even their reflec­tions in the mir­ror show the dual­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion: the hero­ines in the same room are reflect­ed oppo­site each oth­er, but they are no longer close, the mir­ror is false.

Stills from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

In such a dra­mat­ic film, it was impos­si­ble to avoid large por­traits that would only enhance the emo­tions of the char­ac­ters, which the direc­tor, of course, does. The face-lit scheme isn’t new, it’s already been used in Spiel­berg’s The Ter­mi­nal, Nolan’s Incep­tion, and Ander­son­’s The French Her­ald. She is still def­i­nite­ly worth tak­ing into the pig­gy bank of strong styl­is­tic tricks for future shoots.

Stills from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

It is worth stop­ping at just one incon­spic­u­ous, but curi­ous detail of this tech­nique in the Black Swan. Pay atten­tion to the footage from the rehearsal, where the heroes of Vin­cent Cas­sel and Port­man are sur­round­ed by emp­ty chairs. The col­or of all ele­ments of the scene is black! Even though it was filmed in col­or.

Play­ing with paints that only empha­size the nat­ur­al skin col­or of the char­ac­ter in front of the cam­era and make it even more accen­tu­at­ed. Get armed! Con­trast­ing por­traits in a black loca­tion with suf­fi­cient light­ing, and at the same time with­out mono­chrome.

Stills from the movie “Black Swan”, 2010. Direc­tor: Dar­ren Aronof­sky

And anoth­er find of this film in work­ing with the frame is the elab­o­ra­tion of plans. This tech­nique is not new, this is not the author’s dis­cov­ery of Dar­ren Aronof­sky, but its com­pe­tent imple­men­ta­tion. In scenes with a rehearsal room, a man at the piano appears in the fore­ground, then hands with a bow and vio­lin. Thus, the spa­cious emp­ty space of the rehearsal space plays with a new sense of vol­ume, and the frame becomes stronger.

This tech­nique should, first­ly, be tak­en into account for por­trait pho­tog­ra­phy, allow­ing the pres­ence of the detail / char­ac­ter near­by to fall into the frame. And, sec­ond­ly, for street shoot­ing, where the fold­ed puz­zle of acci­dents can become even more con­fi­dent if they go to the entire depth of the frame and are on dif­fer­ent planes.