What’s the Matter with Her?
Nina suffers from a type of Schizophrenia. She loses touch with reality, experiencing hallucinations that she is having sex with a beautiful colleague (Awesome) to ones that convince her she is turning into a swan (…Less Awesome).
*Preoccupation with delusions
When Nina believes that her new friend Lily is trying to take her place as the Swan Queen, she panics; Thomas appointing Lily as Nina’s alternate only exacerbates Nina’s turmoil.
Even though Lily tries several times to befriend Nina, Nina accuses Lily of manipulating her way into the spotlight, when the only person in Nina’s life actually trying to sabotage her moment is Nina’s clingy mother.
*Frequent auditory hallucinations
A little more difficult to discern are Nina’s auditory hallucinations. She hears girls laughing at her when they probably are not, such as after she first begins her performance. Nina’s hallucinations grow more sinister as she gets closer to her debut. From seeing her own face on passersby to believing she is turning into a swan, Nina’s stress levels raise and so does the number and intensity of her hallucinations.
Delusions vs. Hallucinations
Since Nina suffers from both, it seems appropriate to highlight the difference between hallucinations and delusions.
Delusions are false beliefs or perceptions that don’t relate to someone’s culture or religion. Nina believes that Lily is trying to steal her role; there is no valuable evidence to support that this is true, but as Nina has the lead role, her belief is not hard to justify. What makes Nina’s delusion seem plausible is her own anxiety (And her mom).
Hallucinations are assaults on the five senses; someone might hear, see, smell, taste or feel things that are not real.
In a nutshell (Help, I’m in a nutshell!), delusions are bizarre ways a person thinks; hallucinations are when someone seems to experience something that is not really happening.
On the surface, this topic might not appear to have anything to do with this movie…but it does.
Nina’s mother’s behavior is a little inappropriate to only be classified as “overbearing.” She sabotages Nina’s performances; she calls 28 year-old Nina her “sweet girl;” she interrogates Nina about her sex life, and reacts angrily when Nina confesses to sexual encounters that are normal for someone her age (And are none of her mom’s business).
The implication of course is that Nina has been molested by her mother for awhile, and that the black swan part of her personality might in fact be out of reach because it requires Nina to face what her mother has done to her. This makes it very hard for Nina to get in touch with normal sexual feelings, even when her director tries to force them out of her.
Studies have shown that victims of sexual abuse are more likely to develop severe psychiatric disorders than non-victims, so Nina’s situation makes more sense if we consider the possibility that her mother has been controlling Nina with abuse for a long time.
A Perfect Problem
Nina’s perfectionist attitude toward her dancing is fairly common with many anxiety disorders. Her sense of control over her technique is probably Nina’s of way of coping with what happens between her and her mother.
When someone is thrown into difficult circumstances like Nina, a way to compensate for a lack of control felt in an aspect of their life might be to control another aspect. Dancers are typically taught to have a sharp sense of discipline over their bodies, so it makes sense that someone with Nina’s perception of discipline would gravitate toward this profession.
Unfortunately, being perfect is impossible when you are human, so when people put a constant pressure on themselves for such control, there are often dire consequences. In Nina’s case, losing a little control has a snowball effect on her life – she loses a little control, and then she loses all of it.