Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Black Swan: A Psychoanalytic Perspective

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 20, 2010

   Neena (Natalie Portman) is a perfectionist. She is obsessive, determined,  and focused. At the same time, she is emotionally constricted, as if she is barely holding herself together despite feeling  both unloved and unloveable. This is a dark movie, as the title ‘Black Swan’ suggests. Neena is that tragic combination of enormous talent combined with a gaping internal hole. Success, of course, only makes the hole worse, as she struggles with her external accolades juxtaposed with her internal emptiness. Neena is Winnicott’s classic tale of a false self, a self the world sees and admires, but does not ring true with her true self of despair and anguish. Most interesting to me, Neena’s mother, is also an empty shell; a woman who appears to have transmitted her emptiness to the next generation. This intergenerational tragedy runs so deep, it is hard to walk out of the movie with any hope for humanity. ‘Black Swan’ is a feel-bad movie; a movie which reminds us of the darkness of human existence. This is a movie that reinforces the disparity between the external and the internal worlds; this is a movie that shows, powerfully shows, that without internal strength, without self-love, life is robotic, lifeless. The movie is well done, but depressing. To love, to feel loved, is vital. ‘Black Swan’ showed us that in a black way.

10 Responses to “Black Swan: A Psychoanalytic Perspective”

  1. Alana said

    Is this movie in theaters yet ?

  2. Shelly said

    This doesn’t sound like a movie people would choose to go see. Not a “feel good” movie at all. Are there any redeeming features to it?

  3. Anna said


    I’m curious to get someone else’s thoughts on this… but I’m terrible with object relations and was looking at this more from a Freudian view… anyway, at one point in the movie I began to wonder if Nina, Lily, and Nina’s mother were all really one person (actually fragments of Nina). I felt like Lily represented the primitive id and Nina’s mom represented the overly punitive superego and Nina was stuck in the middle trying to negotiate the two. I know everyone else is going with psychosis but I wonder if those other characters were meant to illustrate Nina’s battle within herself… and did not really exist apart from her. No one else sees her mother except Lily… and while Thomas interacts with Lily I wonder if when we see Lily that it is actually Nina sleeping with him but having trouble integrating that. That every time we see Lily, Nina’s mother or Nina herself we are actually watching Nina battle within to figure out who she is. Any thoughts?

    • Hi Anna,
      I am not sure what you mean by spoilers, but I enjoyed your comments. I see your point. I don’t think Neena was psychotic. I think she was fragmented and she could not get integrated, but that did not make her psychotic in the sense of having a chronic mental illness. I agree that the characters of Lily and Neena’s mom represent the parts of Neena that Neena could not grapple with, other than embracing each person in an extreme way. Neena could not find the compromise, and hence she was left with drastic coping mechanisms. Thank you for your comments.

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  6. kp said

    I thought your object relations analysis of Neena was very interesting. I have not seen the movie yet but am excited to do so soon. However, from what I have seen in the trailor, from viewers’ responses and your analysis, I am wondering if Neena really finds herself in the depressive position with a false self. Considering the severe disturbance it sounds more like she is stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position with part-object representations. It seems that she has some unlovable and self-hating self representation.
    Any thoughts?
    Best regards,

    • Hi KP,
      Thanks for your comments. I agree with you. She is stuck in part-object representation. By using Winnicott’s theory of a false self, I did not mean to imply that she was in the depressive position. Thanks Again, SV

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